Episode 16 – Accessibility is Better for Everyone


Xbox One controller with buttons modified to be in different locations.
Ben Heck’s clever customization of an Xbox One controller for one-handed use.
The word “Accessibility” might bring to mind ramps, braille, and other physical world accommodations. Those are important, but the concepts extends to games and other digital media too.

Sometimes it might even be a practical market share consideration: By some measurements 20% of gamers have a disability, and 8% of all men are colorblind.

Making something more accessible has side benefits too – I know I’m glad to see automatic opening doors when my hands are full.

Often an accessibility standard isn’t only the ethical thing to do, it’s also just good practice. Wouldn’t you like to be able to play your favorite game if you broke an arm or your vision degrades with age?

But what does it mean for a game to be accessible? Games don’t usually have a legal mandate to meet accessibility standards, yet can still benefit from thinking critically about other areas’ standards might be applied.

Looking mostly through the lens of accessible web standards, this episode starts with a discussion of various requirements like the ADA, WCAG 2.0, and Section 508. Then we move into applications of the standards, specifically times we’ve seen accessibility features applied well (PS4’s button mapping options) and less so (Dead Rising’s tiny text).

When have you benefitted from a game being made more accessible? When have you wished developers kept that kind of thing more in mind?

Show Notes & Links:

Games mentioned in this episode:

  • Dead Rising
  • Mortal Kombat
  • Call of Duty 4
  • The Witcher 3
  • No Man’s Sky
  • Earthbound
  • Tekken
  • Dance Dance Revolution
  • Pandemic Legacy
  • Ticket to Ride

Episode 15 – Synthesizing and Salvaging Discovery Learning


Hearthstone title screenHappy Thanksgiving! If you’re looking for an escape from the post-turkey awkward conversations, check out the conclusion of our series on Discovery Learning.

In our previous two episodes, we examined the positives and negatives of discovery learning.

But what’s the takeaway – is it a good or bad idea? Of course it’s more complicated than that: A combination of discovery learning and expository learning is the way to go. By providing feedback and scaffolding as students work through problems, instructors will end up with better results.

Discovery learning also survives today as problem-centered learning. By opening with a description a relevant problem to frame the training, you can immediately show the relevance of what you’re talking about. Demonstrate how to solve that problem, and then have students practice responding while you give feedback. Lastly, give them their own problems to work on and provide feedback as they go.

Hearthstone’s introduction of the Taunt mechanic is a great example of this blended approach. Players are presented with a situation that seems unwinnable, with almost no other option than to play the Taunt card and see what it does. We also found examples in Ethan Carter, Myst, and other games.

Show Notes & Links:

Games mentioned in this episode:

  • Ethan Carter
  • Myst
  • Hearthstone
  • Halo
  • Destiny
  • Space Quest

Episode 14 – Adventure Games and Discovery Learning Gone Crazy


kingsquestheader-930x626Discovery learning remains very popular today, BUT! All is not well in the land of self-guided education.

Every time the research catches up to discovery learning and starts to question how well it works, the name changes to aliases like problem-based learning, experiential learning, constructivist learning, etc.

Pure discovery learning leads to frustration and misconceptions. Often all the effort of learners gets devoted to surface-level trappings instead of deeper mastery. Lots of the literature points to expository instruction as a much better alternative.

Adventure games like the King’s Quest series make for perfect examples of discovery learning gone rampant. There’s unwinnable situations all over the place, and far too often they boil down to grinds of trial & error that don’t actually teach any gameplay skills.

One of the articles we talk about this week concludes that “adventure games committed suicide.” Will discovery learning share that same fate? Check back next week as we tie all this together.

We also have a fancy new Facebook page, where we’d love to hear about your experiences (good and bad) with discovery learning.

Show Notes & Links

Games mentioned in this episode:

  • The Vanishing of Ethan Carter
  • Brothers
  • Wolfenstein
  • Hyperlight Drifter
  • King’s Quest series
  • Mystery House
  • Space Quest
  • Leisure Suit Larry
  • Quest for Glory
  • Police Quest
  • Gabriel Knight
  • Hugo’s House of Horrors

Episode 13 – Discovery Learning in The Vanishing of Ethan Carter


landscape from The Vanishing of Ethan CarterThe Vanishing of Ethan Carter is a 2014 all-around spooky game that doesn’t hold your hand. There’s even a note at the beginning stating that you’re on your own. You’re expected to learn as you go, figuring out not only how complex puzzles work but also sometimes the fact that you’re being confronted with a puzzle at all.

That approach matches up quite nicely with the theory of discovery learning. In that framework, learners are expected to figure out underlying concepts on their own, through experimentation and inductive reasoning.

This week’s episode opens with a discussion of expository vs discovery learning, has a mention of J.S. Bruner’s wonderful term “intellectual potency,” and explores the motivation provided to players in Ethan Carter.

But all is not well in the world of discovery learning – check back next week for a look at the dark side of this kind of instruction.

Show Notes & Links

Other games mentioned in this episode

Episode 12: User Testing and Moral Choices in the Bioshock Series


Bioshock logoBioshock is one of the most critically lauded games of all time. Released in 2007, today it still holds a place in Metacritic’s top 25 games ever.

The game’s story, all about an underwater city that fell victim to a mix of Objectivist thinking and superpowers, is still largely hailed as an unusually mature experience among games. But does it deserve that praise? And did Bioshock: Infinite improve on anything when it showed up in 2013?

This week we talk about Bioshock’s approach to moral choices (especially in comparison to Papers, Please), transferability of training, and whether or not the studio’s approach to user testing made any sense.

Show Notes & Links

Other games mentioned in this episode

  • Bioshock 2
  • System Shock 2
  • Spec Ops: The Line
  • Metal Gear: Solid
  • Mass Effect
  • Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic
  • Papers, Please

Episode 11: Metagaming and Knowledge Management

Netrunner box and cardsInstead of examining one game in detail, this week the broader concept of metagaming caught our attention.

From Dungeons & Dragons to Tekken to League of Legends, tons of games can be played at a meta level. There’s so much information about games out there, and whether you take it into account can make or break your play style.

It’s not always looked at kindly, but metagaming is a powerful tool. Players of card games like Netrunner have built elaborate lists of potential card combinations, and pro League of Legends players can craft complex strategies around their opponents’ known play styles.

Beyond games, this has huge implications for communities of practice and knowledge management. How can companies and organizations capture the informal knowledge built up around their business processes? We found some direct tips they can take from metagaming.

Show Notes & Links

Other games mentioned in this episode

  • Tekken 3
  • Final Fantasy 7
  • Dungeons & Dragons
  • League of Legends
  • Magic: The Gathering
  • Hearthstone
  • Netrunner
  • Shadowrun
  • Smash Brothers
  • Halo

Episode 10: Managing Expectations for No Man’s Sky

Box art for No Man's Sky. A lone figure walks across an alien world with animals and spaceships visible.We made it to episode 10! Double digits!

Released in August, No Man’s Sky was one of the most hyped new games of 2016. Promotional materials and press coverage promised 18 quintillion planets to fly your spaceship to, and innumerable things to do on and around each destination.

Gamers got those 18 quintillion planets on launch day, but not much else. No Man’s Sky is a perfect case study in why you shouldn’t inflate expectations about a product or service, but also a lesson in how not to handle the aftermath of a problematic debut. We talk about what Hello Games could have done differently and why it’s crucial to set appropriate expectations for any new product or service.

No Man’s Sky is available for PS4 and PC.

We recorded this episode at the end of September. As of this post, Hello Games is still silent about updates to No Man’s Sky and has not responded to any of the game’s criticism.

Show Notes & Links:

Other games mentioned in this episode

  • Minecraft
  • FTL
  • Rogue
  • Crypt of the NecroDancer
  • Joe Danger
  • Excitebike
  • Elite: Dangerous
  • Journey
  • Tearaway: Unfolded

Episode 09: Incentives and Emotional Impact in Papers, Please


papers_please_-_title_logoThis week we concluded our three week Arstotzkan travelogue with a look at how Papers, Please handles incentives and emotional impact.

The game has an unusually subtle approach to morality and choices, and avoids Mass Effect style extreme polarized choices between good and evil. How does this all tie in to incentivizing performance improvement? What about Empathy, Narrative, and Intrigue? We cover a lot of ground this week.

Papers, Please is available on PC, Mac, Linux, and iPad. At the time we recorded this episode, the iPad version was broken and didn’t factor into our discussion.

Show Notes & Links

Other games mentioned in this episode

  • Super Mario Maker
  • Super Metroid
  • Halo
  • Mass Effect
  • Knights of the Old Republic
  • Dragon Age: Origins

Episode 08: User Experience in Papers, Please

papers-gloryAfter our discussion of Papers, Please’s lessons in instructional design, this week we found the game’s interesting and sometimes counterintuitive applications of user experience and design principles.

There’s friction in almost everything you do in this game, but why isn’t that annoying? And just how does Papers, Please handle abstracting analog objects into digital representations? Why did we keep playing despite such a high cognitive load?

This is our second episode of a three-part series. We’ll conclude our Arstotzkan adventures next week, when we examine Papers, Please’s moral choices and emotional impact.

Papers, Please is available on PC, Mac, Linux, and iPad. At the time we recorded this episode, the iPad version was broken and didn’t factor into our discussion.

Show Notes & Links:

Other games mentioned in this episode:

Episode 07: Instructional Design in Papers, Please

2478680-box_ppIn Papers, Please players step into the shoes of a border control agent faced with increasingly byzantine rules to admit or deny entry into Glorious Arstotzka.

Each game-day presents you with new restrictions on what paperwork to check. The difficulty ramps up slowly but surely, and by the end of the game you’re adeptly cross-referencing 4 or 5 documents at one time in purposely limited screen real-estate.

Papers, Please somehow manages to make bureaucracy fun, in part due to a remarkably well-constructed scaffolding process that teaches players all the necessary skills and tasks.

This game gave us so much to talk about that it’s the first in a three-part series. To start, this week we focused on the instructional design techniques Papers, Please uses to teach players the ins & outs of border control work. Next week we’ll move on to related applications of User Experience design. Glory to Arstotzka!

Papers, Please is available on PC, Mac, Linux, and iPad. At the time we recorded this episode, the iPad version was broken and didn’t factor into our discussion.

Show Notes & Links:

Other games mentioned in this episode:

a pixelated interface with a passport and other official documents laid on top of each other.
As promised in this episode, here’s a look at the limited screen real-estate that Papers, Please gives you for document shuffling.

If you liked this episode, please leave us a review on iTunes or your podcast app of choice. Did Papers, Please strike a chord with one of your past jobs? Let us know!