Saturday, April 27, 2013

City Planning? No Problem!


Hey, one of my friends saw my most recent post and reminded me of another game like Minecraft. This one is a little more structured, but makes you think a lot more. This game, SimCity, is a live action puzzle game, where you are the mayor of a city, and in charge of its construction, services, profit, and population. You make choices about how your city makes money; whether it is from oil, commercial companies, trade, or electronics. You also have to provide your city with waste management, public transportation, police, water, electricity, and fire protection. One of the major elements you have to deal with in your city is traffic, which if it becomes too great, can cause people to move out and you to lose money. This game teaches you a lot about dealing with money and a budget, and also varying city planning ideas.

In the game you have a budget. You have the current amount of money you made, and the amount you make or lose in a game hour. Services and buildings you place cost money not only to build, but to maintain. This makes players think through how they build things, and gives them a better sense of handling actual money.  The game also deals a lot about health and the environment. When you have oil mines, they generate a lot of ground pollution, which brings down the value of the land and makes people sick. Also with oil, you can have an oil power plant, which burns the oil for power and generates a lot of air pollution.  Also, you can burn away your trash too, instead of piling it up into dumps; you can just burn it away, with the only by-product a ton of air pollution.  With sewage, there is a easy versus right choice. For very little money you could have a sewage outflow pipe that pipes out all of the waste into the surrounding forest, generating the highest amount of ground pollution in the game. Or you could use a sewage treatment plant and filter your waste into fresh water, but for much more money. The game provides the player with many choices that affect the success of their city, and this really teaches people how to best manage money, time, and people’s welfare.

Virtual Making


Making is a fluid concept. It is not all material things. Making on a digital plane is just as innovative and inspiring as on the physical plane. In the never ending quest of getting kids interested in making, some of our most valuable assets are video games. Yes, the same things that parents and teachers claim rot children’s brains and make them less creative. But I am not talking about the needless violence and destruction of games like Halo and Call of Duty. I mean the revolutionary indie (and sometimes not so indie) games that make us think and give us the option to experiment and create in a no-loss world. A world where you can always just hit re-start, never lose anything, and just gain more knowledge on what to do next time.

One of my favorite type of games like this is a game called Minecraft. I have talked about it before, but for those who have not heard of it, it is a sandbox game developed by the game developer Mojang.  A sandbox game is a game that does not have a direct storyline, and gives you the ability to manipulate all of your surroundings. One of the best things about Minecraft is the two different game modes it has; Survival and Creative.  In Survival mode, resources are finite, and once you take something, it is gone. In the game you have to build tools to find new materials and fight monsters. It is much like real life. Creative mode, on the other hand, is completely different. You have unlimited supplies of any material you could want. You can fly, and are essentially a god. This freedom has given players of Minecraft the ability to make some amazing structures. People have made scale model versions of entire cities, or even the planet. Since the player does not need to worry about supplies, materials or health, they are able to focus on creating. This is ground-breaking because if this same principle was applied to the actual world, imagine what we would be able to accomplish. No one could have predicted some of the things made in Creative mode in Minecraft, and the same would apply for real-world innovations if the same limitless and worriless idea was applied to the real world.




Another large aspect of Minecraft is a material called redstone. Redstone is said to be an electrical conductor, and is used to create machines and self operating tasks in Minecraft. It, along with all of the different parts that work alongside redstone, gives players the ability to create even more things in-game, but this time the creations are interactive. People have made giant versions of pong, interactive stories told around and with the player, even entire computers inside of the game. This just shows the creative potential Minecraft has.




Another amazing aspect of Minecraft is the programming community that makes modifications, “mods”hw for short, to the game. Some simply add different features to the mechanics to fix it, while others add whole new storylines for you to adventure in. Still more create “Minecraft for geniuses”, with machines, pipes, programmable computers, and so much more for you to stretch the limits of Minecraft to see what you can create. Minecraft completely supports these mods, and is completely open with its source code, allowing for easy modding.



Now this game is great, but why is it good for kids? It teaches them tactics, geometry, and gives them a canvas to paint on for their future. People are just now realizing it. Many schools across the U.S. are implementing Minecraft into their curriculum, and some Makerspaces are offering classes on construction and redstone in Minecraft. With Minecraft, building houses is working with geometry and area, and enchanting weapons is calculating probability.  Teachers can even create custom adventures through worlds for kids to explore, learn, and have fun doing it. This is a better way to teach; take something popular, that every kid enjoys, and use it to teach them while they still enjoy themselves doing it. More schools need to use this idea. It doesn’t have to be a game like Minecraft; they just have to let the kids have fun while they learn. Offer them chances to look more into what they are interested in, and they will work much harder, and learn much more.  Humans are incredible things, and if we unlock their full potential by interesting them, the sky is nowhere near the limit for what they can create.