Gilroy- First Reader for Feb. 1

Koster talks about how games all teach us something, whether that something is a skill applicable to modern life or an obsolete skill that once was necessary to learn. Pac-Man at first seems to be about map exploration, but I think it also teaches us how to predict the future within the confines of spatial reasoning. There are clear demarcations of which players go where and at what speed. Anticipation and map awareness are the only way to win, but after a couple games, it’s easy to get bored of Pac-Man. As adults, we’ve already mastered this skill set, but most children have not, which is why they are fascinated by other predictive spatial reasoning kinds of games, such as Battleship or Tetris.

Pac-Man also has a hierarchy of power. At any time, you know if Pac-Man can eat the Ghosts or if the Ghosts will eat Pac-Man, who is the chased and who is the chaser.

Flow is a different beast entirely. Pac-Man has a clear goal, but Flow is unstructured play or paidia as Callois calls it. It doesn’t seem to teach us anything. There is no map exploration goal, no spatial reasoning to figure out. Instead, it seems to cross over into pure art. It is beautiful and you can play it, but not in the definitions either Callois or Koster provided. However, art is meant to be evocative in one way or another and Flow is evocative in that there are no clear rules or expectations of the gameplay.

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3 Responses to Gilroy- First Reader for Feb. 1

  1. I would disagree that Flow doesn’t teach us anything. In fact, I might argue that Flow teaches us even more than Pac-Man, but in more subtle ways. I’m curious what other people in the class think about this…

  2. kstrylow says:

    I would also disagree with your assessment of Flow.

    While Flow’s goals and rules may be less obvious than Pac-Man’s, they still exist. Like Pac-Man, Flow is an “eat-or-be-eaten” game (in Pac-Man you eat the dots and avoid the ghosts; in Flow you eat everything including organisms that can turn and eat you.) While Flow progresses more slowly than Pac-Man (there are no predators until depth 5, or so,) I would argue that Flow presents much more intimidating enemies. Unlike the Pac-Man ghosts that do not attempt to veil their computer-controlled identity, Flow organisms feel real as they respond to your attacks and vary in size and shape. The goals in Flow and Pac-Man are identical, even though Flow presents them in a more nuanced form.

    In terms of learning, Flow challenged me much more as a player than Pac-Man. From the first moment, Pac-Man is completely obvious: eat the dots, avoid the ghosts. The difficulty lies completely in the speed and intelligence of the ghosts. Flow, on the other hand, forces you to figure out its world. Where is your food? If you keep swimming will you find something different? How are the red and blue portals different? What do you do with the other fish? When you battle the other fish, how do you win? Does the order in which you eat the dots and pluses affect your evolution? Pac-Man only tested my speed in pressing buttons; Flow tested my ability to evaluate and adapt to an unfamiliar situation.

  3. Jason Ko says:

    I do agree that in some aspects flOw is more art than pac-man, but perhaps not for the reasons you specified.

    I believe the interface of flOw, is artful in it’s simplicity, in its ability to combine form and function. The segments of the body of your character represent the maximum life (total length) and the current health (number of filled-in circles) without the need for complex elements of user interface. In a similar manner, the highly geometric nature of the art, which uses very little color, is very calming with it’s lack of detail. I have gone into a slightly deeper analysis of flOw’s interface on my personal blog, please check it out here if you have the time.

    In addition to the commentary I make there, I would like to note that I see art in the way that flOw is more simplistic and yet deeper than the gameplay of pac-man. In pac-man, the goal of the player is to eat the pellets, and the goal of the ghosts is to eat pac-man. However, in flOw the goal of all organisms is to eat and thus thrive. This simple principle apples to both the player character and the other organisms you encounter.

    Also, in pac-man it is almost always best to keep moving. In fact, the game will not let you come to a complete stop. On the other hand, in flOw you can sometimes catch you prey better if you either slow down or come to halt and simply wait. Thus, this game can simultaneously teach the values of patience and initiative.

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