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Serious Games: Terragon
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Moodboard

The Realization of an Undeniable Balance

In this moodboard I want to portray how humans are slowly discovering their place in the universe. Our awareness of the time and place we exist in is slowly increasing. This awareness shows us that we are not the masters of our own medium, but also recognizes that the medium can only become aware through the awareness-capable-observers that humans are. Our level of awareness is (for as far as we currently understand) uncontested in this medium, as no extraterrestrial awareness has thus far been found. The universe is a vast place and most probably will bring us many things our limited cortices might not understand, and could even one day force us to recognize our inferiority to other observers or types of awarenesses. Until then, we must value and protect this seemingly rare phenomena.

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Utopia

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Limited Time and Feasibility

The understanding of “Utopia” is severely influenced by its requirement to be feasible or not, and especially with regard to be possible within a timeframe. Since a utopia represents the perfect state of being of all entities one must consider if these “perfect states” are possible states or not, because one logical requirement of a utopia is that the utopian state is a possible one, since an impossible utopia could never exist, and thus not be a utopia, because of its impossibility. This logically constraints us to only speculate about utopia which are possible and thus requires us to have its foundation in reality.

The state of objects:
Possibilities, Realities and Persistence

The next two problems we then immediately encounter are in the realm of possibilities and realities. Science provides us with tools that allow us to verify possibilities, and has been the best proven method to do so in our current recent history. The scientific method however only allows us to infer possibilities in realities that behave in a constant manner, even if this consistency can only be shown over many trials and eventually only delivers us a statistical proof, as opposed to a deterministic proof in which a certain state always follows a former state. We can however gain no practical evidence using this method if a certain reality only produces complete random behaviours, these types of realities would never stabilize and thus even if a utopian perfect state of being was ever (randomly) encountered there could never be any proof that this state would persist into an indefinite future. The earlier given requirement of “possibility” for a utopia means that we must prefer realities with consistent natures over realities with random natures, because if a perfect state of being slowly degrades into an imperfect state we essentially leave utopia. If we include the (human) observer into this we could state the following: A requirement for utopia is that an observer can rely on observed entities to obey rules which can be proven to be consistent throughout the entirety of the observed reality (knowledge).

The state of Subjects

The state of subjects in this utopia is a little more complex as we would need to create one single perfect state of being for each subject involved in the utopia. This could be impossible and settling for a sub-utopia might be the only solution to reach any optimal state. (At which point any sub-utopia would become a utopian design itself!). Subjects can observe, and form subjective beliefs about, its reality. Parallel to human observers in our current reality they would want to manipulate the state of objects and other observers. In a utopian reality observers are in an ever expanding state of an Self-Efficacy (One’s belief in one’s ability to succeed), realized through ever increasing challenges, that always keep the observer in a state of mental flow. This keeps the subjective experience of the observer positive. The experiences must however always form a relation to the highest reality, so learned information always generalizes and maintains its value, even if an observer leaves a temporary (fictive) reality (e.g. shutting down a game, or any other application that forms a layer on top of the observer’s reality). This means that there is an important role for fiction (in any form) in a utopia. Fiction provides new layers of reality that can provide subjects with important experiences (e.g.: losing your best friend to an incurable disease, or seeing the end of the world) that the highest reality might be unable to provide (because doing so would severely damage its utopian state). Certain layers of reality must be able to provide temporary discomfort if this improves the observer's state over time, in other words, a utopian state can be temporarily abandoned if this increases the utopian state in the long run. (Since we assumed a utopian state is always a sub-utopian state, we can differentiate between current and future utopian states, and thus our utopia is an ever evolving entity that rises from any sub-optimal state to a higher next sub-optimal state).

Essay

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Games

In the contemporary society games have become an integral part of everyday life. Almost all members of society engage in some kind of “gaming” activity at some point during their day. The range of games on offer has become enormous and with the shrinking of our technologies have found their way in every little corner of our lives, from the five minute wait for the bus to arrive to long lasting gaming sessions all through the night. In many of these instances games are a tool for harmless entertainment, but also might elicit addictive and compulsory behaviours in many of us, leading in some cases to governments getting involved in regulating playtime (e.g.: South-Korean Shut Down Law(1)) and advising parents how to protect their children (e.g.: ESRB Ratings(2)). Regulations not only affect playtime but some governments also try to protect their citizens from the possibly (but never proven) harmful content some games provide, the German government for example is notorious for blocking certain content from games, and forcing publishers into releasing less gory versions of their games within the Germany.

But gaming is definitely not all bad, and games have also shown to bring about many benefits to its players, as was described in a recent article(3) by Peter Gray, a well known research professor and author in the field of Psychology, listing some of its most prominent benefits:
1) Improvement of basic visual processes.
2) Improvements in attention and vigilance.
3) Improvements in executive functioning
4) Improvements in Job related Skills.

Serious Games and Gamification

Games and the technologies used can offer the player interactive and immersive experiences, and thus games one might argue that games could be used for education as well. As many “Non-Serious Games” apparently already offer many implicit benefits to its players, we could also leverage these benefits to be more explicit and purposeful. By adding elements that let the player use and train certain cognitive abilities we can help the user practice and thus improve these skills, while all the time enjoying the “not so serious” setting “games” can offer. Where it is sometimes difficult to sit a student down to practice math skills with “boring” raw math problems, we can spice up this experience with entertaining elements that actually allow students to practice these exact same skills, while not experiencing the boredom. This is what the field of Serious Games aims to achieve through a process named “Gamification” and many examples have shown very promising results.

Technologies for Video Games

The technologies for creating games have been under development for many years, and more recent technologies like the Unreal Engine 4 and Unity, are able to create graphics that become ever harder to differentiate from real life. Together with these almost believable graphics, sound, and more immersive output devices like high resolution monitors, but especially Virtual Reality, we have the basis for creating a real sense of presence in digital space. These technologies are already used to cure phobias and promote “positive” behaviours. But also less immersive experiences show capabilities for true behavioural change.

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Serious Games at the VU

Terragon

This year's target setting for the development of serious games was Terragon. Terragon offers an outdoor experience in the form of a park, organizing activities such as camps and workshops for children to explore nature. Master students from the VU were challenged in the Serious Games course to design and develop a serious game that would promote Terragon and its vision.

Escape from the Concrete Jungle

The serious game: “Escape from the concrete jungle”.(5) Entices children to look outside of their concrete environment to discover how much there is to learn in this world if only they would go outside. The game places the player inside a concrete cage, and requires the player to navigate through virtual concrete areas that show pieces of nature. The pieces of nature allows the player to find the answers required to escape from their concrete cage, which is locked by questions to which the answers are to be found. In the first stage of the game children play from within their concrete jungle, once they have beaten this stage, they are supposed to go outside (e.g.: to the Terragon Garden), to discover the answers that are part of the second stage of the game, and thus rewarding the player for going outside.

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Approach of the Course

A red thread that was woven through every lecture and assignment was its critical view on society. Students were invited to think in ways that are less traditional in a Computer Science faculty and it was clear that many of us experienced at least some form of friction and or discomfort. Personally I am relatively comfortable with this kind of thinking, as my history in Industrial Design also offered me many of these encounters, and I am convinced it is a valuable part of education and a required skill if we want to achieve an ever improving society in which members are responsible entities and are engaged in the development of better standards in every aspect of the society.

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Tarragon

This year's target setting for the development of serious games was Terragon. Terragon offers an outdoor experience in the form of a park, organizing activities such as camps and workshops for children to explore nature. Master students from the VU were challenged in the Serious Games course to design and develop a serious game that would promote Terragon and its vision.

Escape from the Concrete Jungle

The serious game: “Escape from the concrete jungle”.(5) Entices children to look outside of their concrete environment to discover how much there is to learn in this world if only they would go outside. The game places the player inside a concrete cage, and requires the player to navigate through virtual concrete areas that show pieces of nature. The pieces of nature allows the player to find the answers required to escape from their concrete cage, which is locked by questions to which the answers are to be found. In the first stage of the game children play from within their concrete jungle, once they have beaten this stage, they are supposed to go outside (e.g.: to the Terragon Garden), to discover the answers that are part of the second stage of the game, and thus rewarding the player for going outside.

DiscoveryArea01.jpg

DiscoveryArea02.jpg

DiscoveryArea03.jpg

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