Adventures in education. Graham Unwin.
Role playing with a computer is but one way computers can be used as educational tools in the home and classroom. Adventures and simulations allow the student to assume a new identity and experiment with different kinds of behavior and unusual situations.
These adventures can be historical simulations, present day mysteries, science fiction projections into the future, or completely fanciful excursions into settings of indetermine chronology. All require thinking, planning, strategy, and patience if the player is to succeed.
As a teacher who is constantly looking for educational value in the activities my students enjoy, I find that adventures and simulations offer positive learning experiences. As a young person plays an adventure game, he develops such important skills as spelling, reading comprehension, critical thinking, and creativity. He must analyze a situation and act in manner consistent with the rules that he has learned govern his environment.
Often, his understanding of historic and scientific events is broadened as he copes with unfamiliar situations.
Each game has certain objectives which may or may not be apparent as play begins. The writers of adventures are extremely clever at devising schemes and patterns which can be uncovered only through perseverance and systematic experimentation. Young people derive a great deal of satisfaction from attacking a task and sticking with it until the problem is solved.
They also enjoy participating in an ongoing story in which they are the characters who determine what happens next. The experience is completely different from the passivity of TV viewing or the physical involvement of arcade game play.
From an educational standpoint, participating in a good adventure serves as an effective introduction to the computer as a complex information processing tool that is easy and fun to use. The experience helps the student learn how to organize information as it demonstrates the abilities and limitations of the machine. Many students are inspired to learn more about the computer and eventually become accomplished programmers.
Students also appreciate the exploratory nature of adventures which creates a sense of suspense and anticipation.
cause one false move can bring about the demise of one's character in a moment, each move involves risk and must be made after carefully considering all the possible consequences.
As every computer enthusiast knows, there are many adventure packages on the market today. They are available for virtually every computer from the tiny Timex Sinclair 1000 to the mighty, all purpose CP/M system. They are also among the more expensive game packages available, so care must be taken in choosing the ones that will work best in the educational environment.
When I began using adventures in the classroom, I found that different programs were appropriate for different situations. A program that did not work well in the classroom might be quite effective as a teaching tool at home.
In my classroom, I scheduled computer adventure sessions during recesses, before school, and after school. After more than a year of experimentation, my team of $10-to 13-year-old experts has come to some important conclusions about many of the packages currently on the market. The remainder of this article is a discussion of their opinions and conclusions. Wizardry
Wizardry, one of the most popular fantasy role-playing games around, allows several characters to travel together through an underground maze full of mystery and danger. Travel is guided by a three-dimensional representation of the maze, and the actions of the characters are influenced by a multitude of variables, only some of which are under their control.
The unique mix of text and graphics and the character development offered in Wizardry capture and hold the interest of most students.
The game requires a great deal of strategic planning. Schemes must be conceptualized and tried. If they work, the rewards are immediate: the character is improved, a treasure is uncovered, or a needed item is found.
The other unique and appealing feature of Wizardry is its multiplayer format. It is the only game we have tried that alows several players to become involved in the game, each with his own character. Players must cooperate in sharing record keeping responsibilities as well as ideas and strategies. Wizardry encourages social interaction, cooperative behavior, and active dialogue. It is difficult but not impossible; continual progress spurs the player on. Hi-Res Adventures
Another series of adventures popular with my students are the Hi-Res Adventures from Sierra On-Line. The series includes five regular adventures and one super epic called Time Zone.
It is best to start with one of the earlier games such as Mission Asteroid or Mystery House and work up to the more complex Cranston Manor, The Wizard and the Princes, Ulysses and the Golden Fleece, and Time Zone.
In the Wizard and The Princess, the goal is to save the life of a princess in a castle far away. This is not an easy task, and the problems encountered along the way callf or some serious, flexible thinking. The game is good for a group, because the more people there are, the better are their chances of hiting on the correct solution.
Sierra On-Line also offers Dark Crystal, a hi-res adventure based on the movie of the same name.
A factor that must be considered with these and other adventures is the amount of frustration they induce. Beginning adventurers frequently reach an impasse and can spend hours trying to overcome a single obstacle. The most effective way to deal with this problem in the classroom is to have a more experienced adventurer available to provide hints when the action bogs down. Adventure International
Scott Adams of Adventure International has written more than a dozen text adventures, most of which have recently been converted to include graphics. Adventureland, Pirate Adventure, Mission Impossible, and Strange Odyssey are the favorites in my classroom. All are now available in graphic form for most computers.
Scott Adams adventures are known for the tricks and puzzles which players must solve to progress. These can keep groups of students busy for hours. Adventures for Beginners
Phoenix Software, recognizing that it often takes a player a while to learn the techniques of successful adventuring, offers a tutorial adventure called Birth of the Phoenix. My students found this approach very helpful, and enjoyed playing the game, too.
Other high quality adventures from Phoenix Software include Adventure in Time, Queen of Phobos, and Sherwood Forest, an animated adventure that puts the player in the role of Robin Hood.
The Snooper Trooper games from Spinnaker Software are also good adventures for beginners. Written specifically for young people, Granite Point Ghost and Disappearing Dolphin are intended to be educational. The student plays detective and must try to solve
a crime; suspects can be interviewed and clues uncovered. Snooper Troopers have provided many hours of challenging fun in my classroom. Infocom
The adventures from Infocom are in a class by themselves. Zork I, II, and III, Starcross, and Suspended feature fantasy/science fiction scenarios that require a great deal of experience and determination. Deadline and the new Witness cast the player in the role of a detective whose taks is to solve a crime before time runs out. They are very realistic and include complex vocabularies.
In terms of innovative designs and verbal interaction, Infocom is the leader in the field. Ultrasoft
Mask of the Sun by Ultrasoft is another very challenging adventure.
It requires the player to explore Aztec ruins for artifacts that are the key to his survival. The game is difficult, but the writers have taken care to provide enough information at each location to avoid total frustration.
Mask of the Sun, like the Infocom programs, is noted for the flexibility built into its vocabulary. With these games, adventures can spend more time exploring ideas and less time searching for word combinations the program will accept. Sword Thrust
Some of the students were particularly partial to Sword Thrust, a sophisticated version of an older text adventure called Eamon. Sword Thrust allows the player to create a character which he then stores on disk and uses in different scenarios. As the character progresses through a scenario, he gains experience and skill which he can use in future games.
Titles in the Sword Thrust series include Vampyre Caves, Case of the Sultan's Pearl, and The Green Plague. Sirius Software
Sirius has released an adventure which my students found very difficult, but attractive, nevertheless, because of its animation and style of play. Although the story line is a bit weak, Escape from Rungistan features some very novel problem solutions.
Capts and Robbers from Sirius is a good graphics-only adventure for the very young. Keyboard Control
Another type of adventure requires that the movement of the character be controlled from the keyboard. These are challenging and require a somewhat different approach than the games that move the character about in response to verbal commands.
Their common drawback in the classroom is that they don't lend themselves to group play. Aside from this, they are very involving games. Examples include Ultima, Odyssey, Adventure to Atlantis, and Temple of Apshai. The Search Series
In a category by itself is a set of simulations from McGraw-Hill Called the Search Series. These are designed for use in the elementary and middle school classroom.
After having used Geography Search and Community Search, I have nothing but the highest regard for the quality of learning they encourae and their unique and innovative design.
Community Search, for example, is a simulation of man's early civilization building and confronts students with the kinds of decisions these people had to make. The class is divided into four groups of nations and told that they have been successful up to this point but are about to face a severe drought. Students progress by trial and error to knowledge of the best way to survive. Geography Search simulates the days of the early explorers at sea. Scientific Simulations
The last group of games I will consider includes simulations that are based on actual scientific phenomena. Although I have seen quite a few of these, several are truly outstanding.
The first is Rendezvous from Edu Ware. In this simulation of the US Space Shuttle, the player flies the shuttle into space, establishes orbit, and then docks with a space station. Accomplishing the docking maneuver is difficult, but the player gets a good sense of what it must be like to pilot a space craft.
Another simulation by the same author is a trip to Saturn called Saturn Navigator from Sublogic.
Microbe from Synergistic Software is a scientific adventure that takes place inside the human body. The player pilots a miniature submarine through the body to correct a patient's medical problem. To complete the mission, the player must make use of several resources, including a library, a navigator, a technician, and a physician.
The designers of the program have carefully provided the ability to control the difficult of the mission, so that the game can be equally challenging for a 12-year-old or a medical student. The documentation is good and offers an exciting introduction to the field of medicine. Writing Your Own
Students and teachers who enjoy adventures often long to put their experience to use in an adventure of their own. Few, howver, have the programming skills necessary to do so.
Genesis for the TRS-80 from Time Management Software of Cushing, OK, is a program that can make their wishes come true. The new adventure can be recorded on disk and offered as a challenge to other members of the class. The program includes a well written tutorial that enables the user eventually to create a game of whatever complexity he chooses. Prospective authors should, however, be experienced adventurers before they try to write games of their own. Summary
Whether in the classroom or at home, adventures and simulations offer a high quality educational experience for young people. The problem solving techniques learned in a underground cave or on a space ship can be applied in many of the situations students will face in real life. Tackling these problems in a group can be particularly beneficial as students learn from each other, and I recommend adventures to any teacher who wants to add a new dimension to learning in his classroom.