Minotaur in a China Shop

Played a few rounds of Minotaur in a China Shop, which is sort of a time management game — only not really. In the time-honored fashion of the Diner Dash games, you’re waiting on customers who want items from your shop (in this case, fancy china pieces) and who get more impatient the longer you take. Only (in distinction with Diner Dash) you have to physically maneuver your way around the stalls and stands, using clumsy controls that make it pretty much inevitable that you’ll knock a few things over on the way. Which makes perfect sense considering that you’re half bull.

Fortunately, your condition is recognized by a sympathetic society, and you have Rage Insurance: should you become too angry (as manifested by breaking a lot of stuff all at once), your insurance will pay out for everything you break. You can make a lot more money in a given turn by smashing your plates deliberately and giving up on the tedious and fiddly task of customer service. Leveling up options primarily enhance your rage capacity, as you can buy new maneuvers with which to destroy china, and more expensive china to destroy. So you end up with a game where the fun gameplay all comes from being antisocial, defying the expectations and desires of the nitwits who come into your shop with little heart-meters floating over their heads. While I play time-management games from time to time, I occasionally develop a certain resentment for the message that customer service people should faithfully put up with even the most absurd and demanding customers.

I’m not sure I share Play This Thing’s characterization of the game as an explanation of the financial mess we’re now in, but from an educational point of view it does concisely demonstrate the whole concept of moral hazard.

It’s not really fun enough (in my opinion) to be worth more than about three rounds of play. But as a comment on a social situation — and, simultaneously, a joke on a whole genre of casual game — it makes its point.

Inform in Education, Reprise

Jeremiah McCall reports that he had a fine time presenting on his use of Inform in history simulations for the classroom at the Games+Learning+Society conference in Madison — and wound up giving an interview for Christian Science Monitor, as well.

Some responses to his presentation can be found here and here.

Language-teaching with interactive fiction

Among the interesting things turned up by my investigation into IF for teaching is a German-teaching module (by Brett Shelton, David Neville, and Brian McInnis at Utah State University) designed for students who natively speak English.

I haven’t gotten very far into the game itself, but I was really intrigued to see this. It starts off with an English-language tutorial voice who steps the player through making commands in German, and I found this very successful (though, obviously, I am not a member of the target audience). In fact, I thought it was better than the average IF tutorial because of the two-language aspect: I had to type back the commands for looking, taking things, dropping things, and so on, but because this parroting was in German, it was more interesting and didn’t feel so zombie-like.

It’s intriguing stuff, I thought. It’s meant for students who have already had a little introductory German, but the first portion at least is playable even if you don’t know very much vocabulary.

Soliciting suggestions about IF for education

I posted this to RAIF, but since I know there are readers here who don’t follow RAIF closely:

Graham and I have been talking about a revamp of the Inform website, and one of the things we’d especially like to add is some support for teaching with Inform and/or interactive fiction in general. But since neither of us has any actual experience of presenting Inform in a classroom, we’d love some feedback about what it would be most useful for us to offer. Particulars follow the cut.

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Ayiti: Cost of Life

Recently, on a recommendation on this blog, I tried Ayiti, a UNICEF-sponsored game about the difficulty of making ends meet as a poor family in Haiti.

It’s deeper and more playable than some of the other political games I’ve mentioned here recently: the interface is mostly well-designed (though I had a couple of particular gripes); there’s enough variation from playthrough to playthrough that you have to adapt your strategy a bit even when you think you’ve cracked the game; and it didn’t feel like preaching to the choir, at least not all the time.

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