Scientific inquiry has a huge amount in common with game play. Science, just as most video games, begins with open-ended questions and problems, which the player/scientist must use creative, iterated and persistent exploration and critical thinking to answer or solve.
In the backstory for this game, a virus from under the Antarctic ice kills everyone over 10 years old. The world is run, mostly badly, by kids, most of whom can’t figure out how to operate the technology needed to make a modern world livable, or fun again. Schmientists are needed to figure out how to get stuff working again.
Player/learners are the child protégés that the world is relying on to make the world fun again. They will create a schmientist avatar who can explore and work in various mad labs, power plants, communications centers, server farms and all the rest, cluttered and overflowing with a dizzying array of half-baked experiments and broken and half-built machines.
Schmientists will begin by using their college credits to earn a base set of specialties and degrees that will give them tools to better address particular types of sub games. They can also earn additional credentials by solving problems, and presenting or publishing their results to the Schmience community.
This community will be composed of other players of the game, who will be able to form various types of partnerships and alliances, and who will be able to interact and share information at Schmience Conferences.
1. Pacing – Game play will be ongoing, and can be played at will for any period of time, spent selecting challenges, building a research team, publishing results or working on problems. The time required to solve any whole problem will increase as Schmientists gain credentials, but should begin at about 30 min.
2. Instructions – Mutated talking animals and other kids gone feral, are running amok and hiding in the labs and facilities, and will be available to provide hints. Each problem will have various tools and labels that when manipulated, will reveal their functions and relationships. No initiating narrative will explain the design space of the game. Instead, Schmientists will wander around the deteriorating city and into labs and facilities where they can discover subsequent levels of the complex and new game design paradigms.
3. Controls – Various apparatuses and device controls will operate the level protocols. They will be able to access a hacked together mainframe to enter data, do calculations, and search for prior art. They will move animals, inject drugs, set dials, transfer chemicals, run accelerators, and transmogrify various gadgets and gillhickies.
4. Knowledge – Schmientists will need to know how to start the game, and be familiar with the most general milieu of science, but the process of inquiry is intended to be discovered even by stumbling exploration of the project areas, with various challenges of scaled depth arrayed in numerous loci. They will use a process of discovery to come to understand how the scientific method works and can be modified to solve particular problems. They should, after some threshold of play, be able to comprehend the way scientific inquiry involves building and refining models to create theories that describe and predict observations.
5. Achievements – Initially, just finding things in the facilities will create little wins, then success in decoding the operation and functions of the devices or the structures of the experiments will represent the next step of success, which will be rewarded with various honors and certificates. Finally, arriving at the conclusion of projects will allow the results to be presented at the wild parties of schmientific conferences held in decadent resorts, resulting in the awarding of additional credentials and strings of arcane initials behind player’s names.
6. Story – The zany and chaotic design space of the game will be self-revelatory so that the back story of the world of the game can be discovered by the player/learner as they move around the city. Clues to and bits of the story will be contained within various objects and area elements, so as game play continues, more and more about the back story will be able to be understood by the player/learners, in pace with their increasing understanding of the process of scientific inquiry. Also each project within the game will have its own arc of story development.
7. Endgame – There will be no terminal endgame. Each project or problem should have enough elements that it can be solved in a wide variety of ways, and with entropy and the degraded nature of the world, these solutions will unwind automatically and at random so that will need to be solved again in an ongoing maintenance of the world. Each solution will have its own resolution where something will start running again or some problem or obstacle will be removed, culminating in the opening of additional game space where the problems will become more and more sophisticated, requiring increasingly sophisticated understanding of the scientific process.
8. Assessments – The solutions to the challenges will form a self-regulating intrinsic assessment. Which areas have been restored, and which problems solved as well as which areas become available and which problems are pending, will form a matrix of success that will be able to be monitored by the players and the teachers.
9. Timing – The game is intended to be ongoing, where even if players have uncovered all the areas and addressed all the problems, they can return to try to find other solutions to problems they have already solved, and which have re-surrendered to entropy. Choosing complex or simple problems will allow players to control how long they will play before being able to open to another level, and just the act of exploring the space will result in smaller rewards, so that even play for just a few minutes may result in positive outcomes.
10. Fun and Motivation – Kids actually love to learn; they are wired for it. So the understanding and revelation of scientific theories and process should provide considerable intrinsic motivation. Numerous extrinsic motivators will also be present, in the form of achievements like additional honors and degrees, the opening of additional levels, and inter-player competition. Additional intrinsic motivation will arise in achievement of success in resolving problems and seeing infrastructure begin to work again. Also, design elements and story structure that include humor and whimsical elements should make the game more fun. Bartle’s Explorers will find the game most motivating, followed by Achievers, then Socializers. Killers will be the least motivated. (Bartle, 1996, http://www.mud.co.uk/richard/hcds.htm).
In Maslow’s hierarchy, (http://werkkrew.com/2008/07/09/maslows-needs-and-gaming/) it is predominantly the upper levels, i.e. Belonging, Esteem and Self-actualization that will be satisfied by play, and in fact, apprehension of the process of scientific inquiry may satisfy the highest levels of need-hierarchies described by Frankl as Self-transcendence.