Friday, June 22, 2012

The Game's the Thing

I've been taking a break what with the heat in the northeast and my dog passing.  But I thought I'd post this before my computer room gets too hot to use, despite the air conditioning.

My wife, Liz, was playing Bejeweled Blitz the other day on her phone.  And that got me thinking how far gaming has come.  Back when I was in school (high school) Atari Bong was the big thing.  Adventure gaming for desktop computers was just starting.  I played Zork and Enchanter and several other classic Infocom games.  Back then, gamers usually referred to someone who role-played, which usually earned to odd looks because of some bad PR Dungeons & Dragons acquired in the news media.

Now games are everywhere.  My last three or four phones have all had some game that came with it.  And games in mainstream software go back to Windows 3.1 and Solitaire.  The term gamer really means less than it did because just about anyone with a smartphone is likely to be playing games on it.

Personally, I think this is a good thing.  Gaming helps develop various skills, like problem-solving or hand-eye coordination, depending on the game.  It also provides much-needed stress relief.

Tip: If your game does induce stress, you are playing the wrong game.

Games are, and have been for centuries, a metaphor for life.  Chess is the classic example.  Game theory and how you go about solving a puzzle or play a game is very telling about your approach to life.  This is way we need more game playing and more games that teach good lessons or that subtly influence the player.  For example, playing SimCity can very quickly teach anyone to avoid deficient spending because once you over spend you're screwed.  You have to borrow or raise taxes and hope your Sims don't leave town making the problem worse.  That's a big mess.  Moral: don't spend more money than you can afford to part with, which is good advice in real life too.

And the best part about games is the ones with the simplest rules are usually the best.  This is something we need to carryover into software and other design activities.  Simple designs work best.  We tend to forget this because in the words of Mr. Scott, engineers "love to change things."  Change for it's own sake is not always best.

I'm done now.  Back to Castle Age, I think.

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