Game Lab #1: Serious Adaptation

What if hacking challenges in games weren't just mini-games involving linking tubes, bringing electrical currents together, timing your input, or arranging puzzle pieces? What if we utilize this opportunity to task players with exercising a skill that may improve productivity, time management and focus? What if this skill could boost the literacy skills of children throughout the world and potentially aid in a global literacy crisis?

This adaptation seeks to do just that.

After reading Katie Salen's "Toward an Ecology of Gaming" piece in The Ecology of Games and the discussion of youth as a focal point for defining how to approach games as a serious experience and serious learning tool, I recalled a few comments that have been made recently about my "hunt and peck" typing style. Admittedly, it isn't my strongest skill upon first glance. While speed and accuracy are never an issue for me when I get some practice in, I find myself fumbling through search commands when looking up content for my courses or in-class discussions. After typing for a regular period of time I lose emphasis of my pointer fingers and begin to make more precise and varied keystrokes with my so-called auxiliary fingers. After a brief conversation with my wife about whether or not I even had a computer class I was left feeling a little without. Am I unfortunate? Am I a fool? Did I miss an opportunity to apply myself and remedy a problem that would follow me to adulthood?

The earlier you squash this "hunt and peck" behavior the better, they say. Coupled with an evening of perusing familiar Gamasutra articles related to educational games and typing it became evident that this was the clear direction to head in for this task. How do I take a Commercial Off the Shelf (COTS) game or games with broad appeal and introduce the goal of solving the world's literacy crisis? By extension, how could this influence or set a precedent for technologies more accessible throughout developing countries?

Hacking time with my hunt-and-peck skills, obviously.

I always thought Typing of the Dead was a cool idea. Initially, when I saw it showcased in one of the gaming magazines that circulated during my adolescence, I thought it didn't make any sense. How could a game like that even get made? Who would play that? I can just type on my keyboard, I thought, but then the glory of it all dawned on my tiny teenager brain in one intense moment. It gamified the whole process! It took a skill we have to exercise, tailor and implant into our muscle memory and uses intrinsic motivators like mastery and efficiency to incentivize learning through play. I realized that games didn't have to just focus on entertainment, escapism and fantasy.

Hacking in games has always been a strange grab bag of match games, visual logic puzzles and lots of pipe games. Connect the dots, let it flow, and plug that electricity in so we can open a door, shut off an alarm, access a computer with vital information and more. Initially, this adaptation concept was primarily for the game Bioshock, which is all about those pipe games, but the design can be applied to these forms of content gates universally.

By hacking cameras in Bioshock you can turn them into allies, notifying you of nearby enemies and providing you with security machines that attack enemies. In essence, the time you spend taking a break from the run-and-gun gameplay to solve some visual puzzles gives you reduced difficulty in a number of ways. Solving these puzzles involves arranging the pipe pieces of the hacking "grid" to create a chain and effectively "rewire" the machine.

Instead, my adaptation would replace this form of game with a simple typing test. A great example of how this could be implemented would be similar to the browser-based game Typing Karaoke (pictured below-left), in which players are tasked with (attempting to) typing lyrics to popular songs. Prompts appear tasking you with replicating various verses during the song. A bar at the bottom of the screen trickles down, providing tension and urging you to use what limited time you have most effectively. Mistakes will not be forgiven, even, and a single incorrect key press will severely stunt your potential score. The game itself is fun to watch even as a spectator, given the catchy music and range of difficulty.

The Serious Game goals after the implementation of this adaptation are as follows:
- Improve literacy through touch typing exercises, which are known to enhance time management, productivity, clarity of communication and more
- Replace arbitrary visual challenges with exercises that engage on a Serious Games level
- Provide real-world applicable skills or skill development through Mastery of said typing exercise

The environmental constraints of the adaptation:
- Players could be denied access to this challenge if too much time is being spent on it, preventing players from taking control of a hack-able camera, computer or appropriate game agent
- Some players may skip this content entirely, which may be intended, but could be reinforced through more beneficial rewards or level design that directs/requires players to it
- Players could access various game agents that could provide rewards through this challenge, like aforementioned cameras and computers, but is not limited to purely technology-oriented narratives as magic could be used to control such objects as well

The formal constraints are as follows:
- Players must replicate the highlighted text via typing on the keyboard to create
- If too much time passes, players will be locked out of the challenge and its rewards
- Skilled players will type faster, which awards more Progress Points, completing the challenge faster and rewarding that Mastery with time
- Non-skilled players will be given more opportunities to exercise the skill, considering the process will take longer to complete the necessary amount of Progress Points, providing intrinsic motivation for players to achieve Mastery

More specifically, my own adaptation would tie directly into Bioshock's aesthetic. After a menu appears explaining the rules and process for completing the challenge, players would find themselves looking at a screen filled with misplaced characters and jumbled type (similar to Fallout's hacking interface, pictured above-right). The player's goal would be to identify various words related to the game world that they have been exposed to. Key names, locations, technologies or any kind of content provided through exposition could be further reinforced here. As these terms are highlighted players would have to type those terms as fast as possible, earning a certain amount of "Progress Points". After a certain amount of this progress the attempt is considered successful. This encourages mastery and rewards player skill while also benefiting non-skilled players with more of the exercises, strengthening those touch typing skills. These simple "perceive and replicate" typing tests could be given any form of visual context, like a computer screen or magical glyph, to suit the games I've mentioned/provided links to.

As an experiment, I took part in two typing tests: one before I began writing this assignment and one after I finished it and completed a few rounds of Typing Karaoke. My words per minute went from 61.6 to 69.2 and my accuracy was boosted slightly from 97.5% to 97.8%.
The concept might not have improved the world's capability to read, write, focus, manage time, and so on but it bumped my own WPM up a fair amount in a small amount of time. The best part was that I had fun doing it. I call that a good sign.

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