Control or not to control – How should I direct the player?

Whilst trying to come up with a sound way to direct the player through an array of puzzles so that they LEARNT the concepts of Trigonometry I discovered a problem. What was stopping the player from just doing trial and error? Trial and error is a vital part of a game experience, it is what reinforces the rules of the game space – what you can and cannot do and how to utilise it. However (whilst still in the development stage) when designing games for education I have come to learn that trial and error must be taken into consideration, that it cannot be a byproduct, a consequence of having rules.

The problem was with trial and error is that the player can go off and create their own understanding of the rules, and work within it. Whilst the player may not understand why they doing what they are doing and the true reason the rules exists – they can acknowledge their existence and alter their actions and the understanding may stop there.

With an educational game, while the main focus is to educate the player, having them wander off aimlessly to follow a story with a rule set doesn’t do much in the way of assessing the content that is intended to be learnt is learnt.

Initially within my game I had interaction set to the traditional keyboard and mouse set up. WASD for movement and LMB/RMB for interaction.

So picture this scenario:

You are a player, similar to that of the thief in Trine, where you must use arrows to destroy enemies or interact with environmental elements. But place it in an educational context where the angle that you use shoot your arrow is dependent on environment cues for measurement, what is stopping the player from ball parking the angle and firing in the attempt to hit the target…nothing. 

This scenario is typical within video games, and I have no problem with it, but when the purpose of firing the arrow, or any action, is reliant on understanding the concepts of Trigonometry – that the angle of Sin is found through the measurements of the opposite and hypotenuse. With an educational game experience, you must look at how trial and error will be used.

In this scenario, while trial and error will eventually get the player to an understanding that aiming at ‘x’ degrees will get the arrow at ‘y’ location, it doesn’t make them stop and think about how the size of the environment affects the angle and whether or not the measurements of the opposite, adjacent or hypotenuse sides matter.

At this point in time I have circumnavigated this problem by removing the mouse capability and resorted to up and down arrows for aiming. Restrictive…perhaps. But it does limit the trial and error aspect to the point where a player will have to think a little more then just placing the cursor on the target and spamming the mouse buttons. Obviously, this is all theoretical and when implemented, may change. This is just the thought process that has called out the problem of controlling the player and to what extent. As I have mentioned in previous posts, I believe that you cannot bring in existing game design principles and arrange them within a non-fictional context and go huzzah you now have an educational game.

The last couple of weeks, while I am narrowing my games’ design down to a more refined conceptual idea getting ready for production, the emphasis has diverted to how do I control the player so that they learn what they need to know but still feel as though they are not given a narrated or rather dictated-through-game-design walkthrough.

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