I've been thinking about the DKART system and how it relates to learning. It's my belief that video games are some of the best education tools around. Certainly many games that we play are far more complicated and more challenging than even some college courses. Yet, even the youngest gamers somehow teach themselves how to play, beat games, and/or excel in competition. It helps that video games require little more than a console and TV, a handheld, or just a PC. It also helps that fun is a very powerful motivator. However, I don't think of these factors as advantages over more traditional education systems. One can develop a great interest in any subject and have an ease of access.
I was careful to call video games educational "tools." Rather than teach us, most games provides a structure and an environment for players to conduct experiments and teach themselves. And through trial and error we build our knowledge of a game. Speaking of knowledge, I've been carefully thinking about the subcategories of knowledge skills. The six are LTM, STM, MM, code/decode, analyze, and channels.
Consider how important LTM and MM are. Playing any game at a competent or the next-level involves utilizing an amount of LTM or MM skills proportional to a game's complexity or dexterity requirements. This makes sense when you think about it. What many call "experience" is a built up library of information that can be accessed quickly and effectively. To build this library gamers must study or practice a game. I can conceive of no other way for someone to learn something so complex and unnatural. Also, when you consider that strategies are specific plans of game actions that account for specific game scenarios, it becomes clear that the specific game information must come from either ones LTM or STM. Since we can only hold 7+2 bits of information in our STM (without spending time/energy coding and decoding the info), we have to rely on our much larger LTM to develop strategies and play effectively at a high level.
Chess, StarCraft, Smash Broths, Street Fighter, and Halo are just a few games that have a lot complexities (game rules) to consider when developing strategies. You can spend your whole life studying these games and never exhaust them. In a way, developing the LTM necessary to play and/or compete can be thought of as a skill barrier. Believe me, developing ones knowledge is key in any game that promotes strategy over tactics and features a lot of complexities. I tested this idea first hand by competing in Brawl tournaments over the last year. By not practicing hardly at all, I tried to strategize by pushing my STM skills. The result, I didn't win very much. What's important to understand is that at each competition, I could see how much faster everyone's game knowledge was growing compared to mine. I could see how they used this skill difference to come out victorious against me. And it's not like I didn't know how to play Brawl. Because the game is so massively complex, keeping up with the latest strategies and playstyles was impossible for me. Even if I invested more time into Brawl, I still wouldn't be able to keep up.
So what can we do about this LTM and game complexity problem? Well, it's not a problem really. Highly complex games give players lots to learn. Many understand this as a game having an impossible high (knowledge) skill ceiling. Because complexities (game rules) make a game unique, I don't advise making less complex games as rule of thumb. So rather than design games with few complexities, we can design games that offer better teaching tools to the player. In fact, we can design games that can guide and teach players rather than turn them loose to figure out things on their own.
Before looking into how games can better teach players, I want to take a much closer look at the primary way we develop our LTM and teach ourselves the complexities of a game. I want to focus on the process of trial and error.
From Wikipedia (underlined words by me)...
Trial and error, or trial by error or try an error, is a general method of problem solving, fixing things, or for obtaining knowledge. "Learning doesn't happen from failure itself but rather from analyzing the failure, making a change, and then trying again."
Trial and error has a number of features:
- solution-oriented: trial and error makes no attempt to discover why a solution works, merely that it is a solution.
- problem-specific: trial and error makes no attempt to generalise a solution to other problems.
- non-optimal: trial and error is generally an attempt to find a solution, not all solutions, and not the best solution.
- needs little knowledge: trials and error can proceed where there is little or no knowledge of the subject.
Trial and error perfectly describes the process of the gamer who jumps right into a new gaming experience. No instruction books. No tutorials. No warming up. Such gamers bank on simply figuring things out for themselves. This is particularly interesting when we consider the Fleming VARK model of learning styles. According to this model there are visual, auditory, and tactile learning styles (and possibly reading/writing preference learners, but we'll focus on just the 3). Though video games feature visuals, sounds, and tasks that must be physically executed using dexterity skills, this is not the same as a game featuring visual and auditory tutorials. Aside from games like Braid and Super Metroid that teach by visual instructions, and other games that have voiced tutorials, most games excel in providing an interactive experience for tactile learners. We'll explore how the DKART system relates to learning styles in great detail later.
So from this point we need to look closely at the game at hand. Mega Man 10 (MM10). The sequel to the fantastic Mega Man 9, this game already holds a position on my GOTY list for 2010. Here's the project:
Mega Man is a game series that many feel is very difficult. To better understand what makes the game "difficult," I'll use the DKART system to fully break down various MM10 gameplay challenges. To set the bar appropriately high, I will focus on the task of beating 10 MM10 bosses on the hard difficulty with just the M. Buster (Mega Man's default weapon). The skills and subcategories I will focus on the most is the process through which one can use their STM, analyze, and code/decode skills to develop the necessary MM and LTM skills. Doing so should give us critical insight to what it takes to win, why so many find it difficult, and why some fall short.