My Technical Writing students are working on a User Experience Assignment – memo specifically – this week. I’m using this post to similarly explore the user experience of casual games. With Cultural Rhetorics behind me, and my amazing co-authors busy with their current project, i’m focusing on casual games games, and the ways I see the learning design of causal games as an important way to re-imagine Gamified System Design in pedagogy – specifically Gamified Pedagogy. One of the important aspects of this will be understanding how casual games communicate learning to their players. So i’m using this memo example as a way to begin thinking through learning design in casual games, and to explore User Experience design as an example for my students.
To: Dr P
From: Dr P (student name goes here)
RE: User Experience Learning Design in Zombie Castaways (memo line should communicate about your memo)
For this project I selected a casual game i’ve been playing called Zombie Castaways. As an avid player of casual games, I think stepping back to consider why I play casual games and how the learning design enhances player experience are important considerations for future application to Gamified Pedagogy discussions (students – here i’m identifying the purpose of this discussion AND where this discussion fits in a broader talk of these types of applications)
Zombie Castaways is a typical casual game, the player engages with multiple, often-multi-phase missions to earn rewards and open new areas/islands. The missions specifically require the player engages with the designed environment in preparation for future missions. To explain game design to players, missions initially appear on the entire screen, detailing the steps necessary to complete the mission. Once a player has read the information, they can shrink the size of the mission so it appears in a smaller mission menu on the left-side of the screen. In initially displaying quests in such large spaces on the screen, the design reinforces gameplay – it teaches players how to progress through the game.
Further, the missions teach the player how to understand the designed play-space, and prepare the learner for future game understanding. In many ways, these are positive designed learning experiences (purpose). For instance, the player can use zombified farmed produce (Hypnosunflowers and Necropumpkins, etc.) to cook potions (Hypnopoppy and Necroclover, etc.). As the player advances and needs to buy more expensive buildings to continue progress through the game, this previous experience farming for the purpose of cooking becomes a way to help the player earn money to afford the buildings required of future quests. Early quest design teaches players to engage with the world in specific ways, that should be useful later. In addition to teaching players to progress through the play experience, the choices in mission design reinforce the purpose. All missions relate to ideas of zombies,. Storyline and plot development build the context of the game while also reinforcing the purpose – zombies and castaways.
These designed quests appeal to broad audiences, but the most appealing aspect is choice (a post-feminist critique of choice in consumerism as feminism succeeding is necessary here, but not appropriate for this particular assignment). Players can choose which quests to complete in which order. When quests depend on each other, players can choose to purchase aspects to complete quests more quickly.
Scope and Medium
While quests are often more complex than outlined here, this general overview serves to highlight the importance of the app medium for this type of game. Casual games played through social network sites like Facebook can be played at a quicker rate when friends contribute to gameplay, however, these games do not require social interaction. For this reason, the app medium, on portable devices, is an important medium that allows for players to interact with the game for short periods of time, whenever it’s convenient. These quests don’t require an hour of sustained play, and the choice offered to players through the app medium allow players to make choices based on the time available to them. I can farm crops when I have longer periods of time (this is a more tedious grinding task that requires plowing, planting, then harvesting after a period of time), or I can use stores of produce to have the cooks prepare the potions (an easy task that requires 2 to 10 quick clicks to complete). This medium and task design further help players understand the game in specific ways, understanding their choice in quest completion has more than just personal choice influences. This is an important moment in game design as ‘good’ game design effortlessly walks players through these choices, engages players with these tasks and missions, teaches players the rules of the game without the player noticing. In providing various missions – not just for choice but also for time – this medium and the design choices more effectively teach players how to play the game and enjoy their play time.
For these reasons the scope of the game design is quite extensive, with special missions, secret islands, and holiday themed events appearing to offer further player engagement and choice. The game scope, in the app medium, further entice the player to continue to revisit the game, and to offer more choice to the player to maintain their engagement and fun.
What becomes apparent from this user experience analysis is the interdependence of audience, medium and scope while audience and purpose are interdependent. Users experience the game through the choices they make, within the design space provided by the game in the app. Extending this beyond the casual game app I want to explore how this approach to learning design can be effective in the classroom, especially the composition classroom.