Vs. Mode: Mastery in Video Games; the supplement

Chad over at Library Voice got this week's Vs. Mode started discussing if videogames teach through forced repetition or through incentives to return. I replied in kind late last night, but as I was writing I wanted to explore more games to see how they teach.

Do videogames use the "try and die" method Chad discussed basically providing the player enough skills to complete the level or the boss (ie. teaching to the test)?

Or Do videogames create a "learning environment" where players want to continue trying and return even once done to improve their performance and create mastery through play?

To gain a larger picture of the gaming world, I want to look at both the top selling games in America from April 2007 to April 2008. According to a Next Generation story from April 9, 2008 the following are the top ten games:

10. Brain Age 2: More Brain Training in Minutes a DayImage

Brain Age 2 is most certainly a game of mastery through play. The game is designed to bring players back on a daily basis to practice their skills and improve their scores. It tracks the daily scores and praises the player for setting new records.

Image9. Super Mario Galaxy

Mario Galaxy is a balance of both types of teaching. To progress through the story, the player only needs to do enough to complete a level and eventually defeat Bowser. But to really complete the game and gain access to the "secret" ending where Princess Rosalina's storyline is tied up (Gamasutra had a great piece on this earlier this week... here) - a player needs to collect all the star pieces. There are many star pieces that can be obtained within any given level of Galaxy and this piece of unfinished business helps create the motivation for the player to return again and again and gain mastery at each level.

8. Assassin’s CreedImage

Assassin's Creed follows the same example as Mario Galaxy, although critics have argued if the narrative in the game is even enough to keep players coming back. Regardless there is an overarching narrative that will continue into future games of the series, but there are also flags hidden throughout the world to provide players a reason to return. Although, unlike Mario, the the incentive is stronger to "just get through and be good enough" rather than collect everything.

Image7. Pokemon Diamond/Pearl
Now here is a game that forces mastery through play. Pokemon evolve and gain experience through their battles, so continued play is a must. Most players, regardless of their age, do not play for the narrative of becoming a master trainer. Most play for the collecting, leveling, breeding, and battling of their Pokemon. Mastery is not gained by being "good enough," there is always something or some Pokemon that can gain experience.

6. Need for Speed: ProStreetImage
The racing genre itself is based around mastery through play. While there may be times when "good enough" is needed to open up a new car or track, the gameplay is designed around the continued play and improvement of play. Records are set by the fastest time, not just anyone who crosses the finish line.

Image5. Madden NFL 08
Being good enough may get a "W" in the box scores, but mastery through play comes over the course of a season or more. The player learns more after every set of downs and every game. The skill and drill strategies do not work here because (most often) the AI will adjust if a player's strategy or plays become routine. Mastery not memory is needed here.

4. FIFA Soccer 08Image

Same comments as Madden above. Mastery not memory.

Image3. Guitar Hero III: Legends of Rock
Guitar Hero may rely on memory for notes, "good enough" is not in this rockers vocabulary. Guitar Hero allows players to teach to the test by practicing songs they will need in the career mode (expect for the boss battle, which take on the just survive mentality), but Guitar Hero also keeps scores on each song. This reporting encourages the player to return again and again, to see how they have improve and ranking their performance

2. Halo 3Image
The final two games balance both modes of teaching. "Good enough" applies to the single (or mulit) player, story driven experience where the players are able to close off Master Chef's story arch. But the multiple player is what continue to drive sales of these games and continued to drive people online to play them.

The online multi-player experience is specific to mastery through play and practice. Online leaderboards may record wins and loses and rewards those who continue to practice and improve their skills.

Image1. Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare

Like Halo 3, the story driven experience allows for skill and drill education. In fact, due to COD4's continually respawning enemies memorizing certain spawn points and patterns is often the best (only?) way to get through certain sections. But it is not the single player game that kept COD4 on the top of XBox Live until last week's release of GTA4. It is the deep multi-player experience that creates a rewarding learning environment for players to increase their skills. COD4 recognizes the importance of mastery through play and practice by awarding metals and levels to players who have learned skills and increased the success in online games. COD4's online mode creates an active learning experience that players continued to return to in order to practice, improve, and demonstrate their knowledge.

Knowing that many of the top selling games last year tried to find a balance between passing a standardized assessment (boss battle or level) and a continued learning environment for increasing knowledge (higher scores or rankings) - can we as educators find that balance?

And can video games help us achieve it?

All images via Next Generation