Education or entertainment? (evaluation) Betsy Staples.
In our travels over the educational software landscape, we occasionally stuble upon outcrops that don't quite seem to belong in the category but still carry the label. Quiz games, for example, are classified as educational by some manufacturers and entertainment by others. Where do they really belong? To find out, we took an in-depth look at five quiz games from leading manufacturers.
Before we reveal our conclusions, however, a few words about educational software in general are in order. Educational software tends to fall into one of four categories. The first is tutorial. Good packages in this category impart facts and, in some small sense, assume the role of a teacher. They cover a broad range of topics from how to punctuate a sentence to how to use a micrometer. Effective programs of this sort, although becoming more plentiful, are still few and far between.
The second category is the one in which most currently available educational programs fall: drill and practice. These programs assume that the user has already been exposed to the principles being practiced and provide exercises to reinforce the concepts. Some drill and practice programs provide just a series of questions while others furnish remedial paths and tutorial information on concepts with which the user is having trouble. We have reviewed many fine programs in teh drill and practice category.
The third category is simulations. Program in this category simulate everything from a malaria infestation to a town council meeting. They give users the opportunity to ask the all important "what if?" questions and foster the idea of learning by discovery.
The fourth category may loosely be described as supplemental programs. These may do statistical calculations or provide help in gathering data for a lab experiment. In this category, the computer is being used as a tool in the learning process.
Where, then, do quiz programs fit in? They neither teach, drill, nor simulate; they simply reward the person who has mastered a bit of knowledge.
Some packages offer the added challenge of locating the answer to a question concentration-style. Now when we were children, we played concentration with playing cards, and we had many, many hours of fun doing so, but we don't remember ever being told that the game was educational. So, that feature in itself cannot qualify a program to wear the educational label.
Other programs have a time limit that increases the pressure on the player, but certainly does not cause him to learn anything.
After many hours of play, we came to the conclusion that quiz games are just that--play. To some it may seem that they place play on a higher plane than twitch or even adventure games because they do reward the mastery of various sorts of knowledge. But because the knowledge must have been acquired prior to playing the game, we think they must demur when offered the educational appellation.
All this is not to say that we think quiz games are bad. Quite the contrary, we enjoy them tremendously, and had a grand time preparing the reviews which follow. We are particularly glad that they exist when we consider the number of game clods we know who lack either ability or enthusiasm for traditional computer games.
No, indeed, we don't dislike quiz games, we just want our readers to view them realistically. With that in mind, let's get on with our reviews of some great entertainment software. Master Match
The first of the concentration games we examined was Master Match by Computer-Advanced Ideas. The game begins the usual preliminary interrogation involving sound effects, instructions, number of players (one or two), and player names.
That done, you are asked to choose a subject area. The master disk comes with 12 subjects including animal sounds, directionality, opposites--Spanish, travel words--German, heads and tails, and U.S. geography. There is a vast difference in the level of difficulty from one subject to another, but there is no way to know in advance which are the more advanced topics. Heads and tails, for example, requires only that you match the tops and bottoms of three animal outlies. In contrast, travel words--German expects you to match nine relatively complex German sentences such as "Ich mochte einen Platz auf dem flug nach Munchen buchen" with their English equivalents. We think the user, whether he be student, parent, or teacher, should be able to tell the level of difficulty in advance.
After the subject area is chosen, the game board appears: 6, 12, or 18 numbered squares at the top of the screen with the CAI owl in the center below. The owl asks you to choose a square by typing its number. The clue from that square then appears alongside the owl and you have a chance to choose the square that reveals the other half of the pair.
If you choose correctly, you see a mini light show as both boxes light up and eventually are filled in. You earn two points for each correct match, and the owl totals your score each time you make one. If you guess incorrectly, the owl soberly informs you of the fact and continues with the game.
At the end of the game, you see your score for that game, and the owl asks if you want to play again. If you want to play again using the same subject area, the program recycles quickly, and you find yourself facing the owl and the quiz squares again very soon. If, however, you choose to play again using a different subject area, you must repeat the entire introductory sequence, specifying your preference for sound or not, your name, etc. The same thing happens if you misspell the title of the subject area you choose. We grew weary of this almost immediately. Adding News Items
Adding new quiz items to the game is quite simple. You can create new subject areas of your own, change the ones that come with the program, and save your additions and changes to disk.
You can use straight alphanumeric pairs, or you can create graphic representations that match either other graphic figures or alphanumeric clues. In the U.S. geography category, for example, the names of states are paired with graphic outlines of the corresponding states. Documentation
The documentation consists of a 19-page, small format booklet, the contents of which have been typed and reduced in size. The instruction for both game play and adding additional quiz items are straigtforward and adequate. There are no educational objectives or suggestions for additional activities.
Our copy came with an errata sheet which included a corrected paragraph for the section on adding quiz items. Summary
If you enjoy concentration-type games, Master Match is a reasonable choice. It is not the most polished or professional game of its ilk that we have seen, but it does the job, provides a simple way to add quiz items, and offers a reasonable choice of subject areas and levels of difficulty.
CIRCLE 405 ON READER SERVICE CARD Match Wits
Match Wits from CBS Software may be entertaining, but it is definitely not for kids. Few pre-adolescents of our acquaintance possess the knowledge necessary to do much more than guess at combinations such Sikorsky/helicopter and Super Fudge/Judy Blume.
The matching process is further complicated by the site of the grid on which the pairs are hidden (5x6) and the method of identifying the squares (x,y coordinates).
As the game begins, you specify the usual sound off/on and names of the two players or teams. You then choose from the menu a category such as sports, words, cities, famous people, multiplication, or animals. When you have made your choice, a second menu allows you to choose one of three subcategories (synonyms, antonyms, compounds for words) or all three.
After a short delay, the game board appears, and the first player begins by specifying the coordinates of the square he wishes to turn over. He then tries to match it. If he fails to match it, the message "Sorry, no match" appears, and the second player gets a turn.
If he makes a match, he earns 150 points. Two puzzle pieces are revealed, and he gets a chance to solve the puzzle.
We found the puzzle the easiest part of the game. We saw only rebuses of common phrases and expressions, but the instruction booklet says that they may also be pictures of famous people, places and things.
If the player chooses not to guess at a puzzle solution, he can pass by pressing RETURN, and he gets another turn at match making. If he guesses incorrectly, the turn passes to his opponent. Some of our playtesters had problems at this point early in the game when very little of the puzzle was revealed. Since it was pointless to guess, they were eager to get on with their turns, and frequently forgot to press RETURN before entering a new set of coordinates. In that situation, the program thinks the player is entering 2,4, for example, as his puzzle solution, tells him he is wrong, and gives his turn to the other player--very frustrating. It would not have been difficult to trap for that kind of incorrect response.
When one of the players finally solves the puzzle, the program tallies the scores for both players and offers a chance to continue playing. Adding New Items
The Match Wits Secretary is the portion of the program that allows you to create new game files.
Detailed instructions are on the disk, and although they will probably overwhelm you the first time you try to add your own pairs, a bit of experimentation will soon convince you that procedure is not at all difficult. You cannot, of course, create your own puzzles.
By adding easier combinations, parents can easily render Match Wits playable by younger members of the family.
The only problem we had with the Secretary portion of the program was leaving it. After we had created our new game file, we pressed the key that promised "exit" only to have the program hang, leving us with an error message. We re-booted the game and were able to use the pairs we had created, but we were never able to get back to the game from the Secretary. Documentation
The documentation for the game is a four-page leaflet that provides a basic outline of game play and the Secretary feature.
Since the package is positioned as a game rather than an educational program, there are no educational objectives or suggested classroom activities in the manual. There is, however, a list of suggested categories which can be used in creating additional game files. Summary
Match Wits is a very challenging implementation of the concentration theme. It has the added motivation of the puzzle to solve, and should offer many hours of entertainment to older members of the family.
As always, we appreciate the ease with which game files can be added, but we hope that your copy of the game has been better debugged than ours was. We also think the game could have been improved by the addition of labels on the grid and stability to change the size of the grid.
CIRCLE 406 ON READER SERVICE CARD Square Pairs
Square Pairs from Scholastic is probably the most flexible of the concentration-type games we reviewed. It allws you to control not only the contents of the squares to be matched, but the size of the game board as well.
As the game begins, the first thing you seeis the main menu, which offers the following choices: play the game whose title is shown at the top of the screen, select another game, change options, make a new game, change options, make a new game, revise the current game, and use disk aids. You use the arrow keys to move the pointer and make your choice.
The program then asks for the names of the players, and the game board, whcih consists of from eight to twenty squares arranged in a grid, appears. At the bottom of the screen are messages telling whose turn it is and the current score.
Players take turns uncovering one square at a time as they attempt to find matching pairs. When a match is made, the affected squares blink a few times and then turn a different color from the rest of the background.
The games that are on the disk as you buy it are cities-countries; computer terms; dirty words (grime, slime, mud, etc.); do, re, mi; faces; French-English; Guinness records; old sayings; opposites; oppostands; and sequences. There is only one set of pairs per game, but the variety in both subject matter and size of grid is sufficient to provide a fair amount of play. Adding New Items
The real beauty of Square Pairs, is the ease with which new games can be created. When you select Make a New Game, you first choose the size of your gameboard. You then type your matches one at a time into pairs of squares that appear on the screen along with the instructions.
After you have created your name, you have an opportunity to save it on disk or to check and revise it if necessary.
Using the Change Options option on the main menu, you can specify the number of players (one to three), whether or not you want the computer to play, and whether or not you want sound. Documentation
The 16-page instruction book provides detailed instructions for playing the game, changing the options, and creating your own games. For the most part, the instructions on the disk are quite adequate, but the booklet offers a bit of extra security for the inexperienced user.
The last page of the booklet offers some ideas and examples of games you can create yourself.
Our only complaint about the package concerns the package itself; the box in which the program is sold is a three-dimensional parallelogram (as is the instruction booklet). No matter where or how you store your software, this package will be a nuisance. Even if you remove the disk from the box and store it in a disk box, you will still have the booklet to contend with; it just does not fit in any standard container. Summary
Packaging problems notwithstanding, we liked Square Pairs and found it challenging even to people older than the recommended 7 to 12 years--particularly when we used our own game questions.
We liked the variety offered by the game topics and the variable grid size. We also applaud the ease with which new games can be created and the clear documentation. Square Pairs is a good choice for concentration buffs of all ages.
CIRCLE 407 ON READER SERVICE CARD Fax
What was the length of the longest worm ever found? If you know that the answer is 180 feet (gag!), you will probably enjoy Fax, the licensed version of the video game of the same name. Even if you didn't have that answer on the tip of your tongue, if you like trivia, you will like Fax.
The object of the game is simple: to answer as many trivia questions as possible as quickly as possible. A question appears at the top of the screen, and you have about two seconds to study it before the multiple choice answers appear and the clock starts to tick. If you answer correctly, you earn all the points remaining on the score clock. If you answer incorrectly, the clock stops, and you earn no points.
In two-player mode, players play against each other as they try to beat the clock. Each player has his own set of keys; player one uses keys 1 to 4, and player to uses 6 to 9.
At the beginning of the game you have a given amount of time; when that time is gone, the game ends. If, however, you reach the pre-determined bonus level with time remaining on the game clock, you win additional time.
The pace is fast and frantic, and some of the questions and answers are quite amusing. (a woman in Los Angeles married a rock--true or false). Others just seem stupid, and we began to wonder why they were included (What is a kidney? 1. The leg joint of a young goat--no other answers listed).
The Fax package includes two disks. One holds the program and the other the data. There are four categories from which to choose your questions: entertainment and grab bag are on one side of the data disk, and sports and history are on the other. There is no way to add questions. The game also offers three difficulty levels--novice, expert, and genius--the questions are the same, but more points are needed to earn additional time at the higher levels.
We found Fax entertaining and stimulating in both one-and two-player modes, and we plan to have it running at our next party.
CIRCLE 408 ON READER SERVICE CARD
Products: Master Match (computer program)
Match Wits (computer program)
Square Pairs (computer program)
Fax (computer program)