I’ve been keeping myself entertained recently by playing various games. At school I play games such as hide-the-pingpong-rackets-and-balls-that-weren’t-put-away-properly, Fabula (I’ll explain below), and a homemade vocabulary game. At home I play wash-the-dishes, Total War: Shogun 2, and Minecraft. I also alpha test Antilia on Sunday, if I have time, and my former roommates are hoping to get an intercontinental Dungeons and Dragons campaign going.
Sometimes I play the computer games on my list because I need to do something that doesn’t require the sort of thinking I’ve had to do at work or because I have time for a little relaxation. And other times I play them because it’s the weekend and my students’ stories make me want to curl up in a corner and cry, which is not the mood I want to be in for the whole weekend; it’s a way to cleanse my mind of the plot, formating, and grammatical horrors I encountered or build up my fun reserves before I march, pen in paw, against the paper giants.
But rather than just tell you that I play these games and leave it at that, I’ll tell you about them and why I enjoy them.
Hide-the-pingpong-rackets-and-balls-that-weren’t-put-away-properly is a simple game. All you need to play is pingpong equipment and students who, for whatever reason, don’t pick up after they are done playing pingpong. It’s a fun game because eventually students come to you asking if you’ve seen the pingpong equipment and you can give them vague answers, charge them a small fee, or make them do something embarassing, like sing “I’m a Little Teapot,” to get the equipment back. The end goal is to instill responsibility in the students so that you can play more productive games, such as scan-the-shelves-for-out-of-place-books, and not have to play this game any more.
Fabula is a “board” game where one person plays Whilelm Grimm and all the other people play characters in his imagination. Grimm reads a story, pausing at places to present his characters a question regarding how they would solve a plot point. The characters, who range from a fox merchant to a hag to a knight, must use one of the item cards and try to stay in-character to solve the plot point. If Grimm feels it is a worthy solution, he awards a quill to that player. For the final plot point, the two characters with the most quills have 30 seconds to tell how they would use the two remaining item cards (the second player must give a different answer) to solve the plot point and resolve the story. Grimm then chooses a winner. It’s a fun game because of the creativity required. You have to think about how your character would solve a problem with an item that may not ordinarily seem like it would be useful in solving the problem. I’ve had fun playing it with my EFL students and a little fun playing it with my Creative Writing students, though most of them would rather be somewhere else, which makes it less fun to play with them. I highly recommend this game to storytellers and creative/imaginative people. And for those of you who aren’t either of those, I still recommend the game to you, though it might be harder to play.
The vocabulary game I made consists of a board that has a path going from start to finish. The spaces alternate between having to provide the definition of a given word and having to provide the word a given definition defines. There is a shortcut and a couple places where you can be sent back if you give the wrong answer. You need to have a d6 (or six-sided die) for movement, a list with words and their definitions for the teacher (makes it easier if numbered), and then a d10, d12, or d20 (depends on how many words you want to use) for randomly selecting a word/definition from the list to ensure people don’t feel like you are giving easy words to one group. You can have the students roll both dice or just the movement one. Works well with reading vocabulary. Math vocabulary… not so much…
You may be wondering how washing the dishes can be a game. You probably think of it more as a chore than a game, but it can be a game and here’s how. All you need is an imagination, though a hyperactive imagination helps. Once you are armed with your imagination, you may approach your pile of dishes and let it run wild. Perhaps you are a gold prospector and are panning for gold. Or you are an archaeologist who is carefully removing the grime from artifacts. Perhaps you are under the tutalage of someone such as Mr Miyagi and have to wash the dishes to learn a way of blocking attacks. You could imagine that the various dishes are worlds that an imaginary hero (perhaps named Sudsy or something like that) must venture across (along the lines of sidescrolling platformers). So you see, it is easy to make a game out of washing the dishes. And you needn’t keep this confined to washing the dishes – any chore can be made into a game if you have an imagination up to the task.
Total War: Shogun 2 is a real-time strategy (RTS) and turn-based strategy game set in feudal Japan. The goal is to conquer enough of Japan to become the Shogun. You start on the turn-based campaign map that encompasses all of Japan except Hokkaido. You manage your clan’s enconomy, research focus, military, diplomacy, and buildings. If it sounds complicated, that’s because it is, to a degree. If you engage an enemy army in battle, you are given the option of auto-resolving it or entering into a RTS battlefield where you control the troops you had in your army. Terrain, morale, unit experience and type, and weather all play a role in aiding or hampering your efforts to achieve victory. The fact that the units will say things in Japanese is an added benefit (and I understand when they say they can’t do something). All-in-all it is a great game, though my netbook has difficulty handling it even at the lowest settings. Even better is the fact that I’ve been doing a co-op campaign with my bestman; slowly we are taking over Japan! (I say slowly, since we can only get together when timezones and work schedules align)
Minecraft is like a computerized version of Lego bricks without the knobs on top and with creatures whose sole purpose is to blow you and your creations to smithereens. There is no set goal, per se, though you might consider building impressive structures a self-imposed goal. You are able to craft various tools, weapons, armor, building materials, and mechanisms to help you build what you have in mind. I play mainly on my former roommates’ server, since it is a lot more fun to share your creations with friends and watch their creations rise before your eyes. My contribution to our group project has been a farm with a wheat field, sheepfold, and melon patch.
Antilia is a massively multiplayer online (MMO) game that is still in development. Currently it is in alpha testing. I don’t know how long it will take for it to be released publicly, especially since it is being made by an independant game studio with a very small number of developers. But I am willing to wait for it. And here’s why. It is graphically stunning, even in alpha and at the lowest graphics settings (yeah, my netbook is not designed for gaming ). The player characters are anthropomorphic animals, with the fox as one of them (and the fur detail level just makes me happy). It has a more unique fantasy world setting. The skill system looks like it will be robust and will allow for player customization (granted, it hasn’t been fully implemented yet, but from what I’ve read in the game’s forums and dev blog, you’ll be able to essentially define your own class through what skills you choose to learn, though you won’t be able to attain max level in every skill tree). I may talk about this game from time to time, since I am excited about it. Here is Antilia’s website, in case what I’ve said has gotten you excited about this game.
Finally, Dungeons and Dragons is a pen-and-paper role-playing game where you take on the role of an adventurer and usually end up solving the problems of hapless villagers, troubled kings, and the like. I like it because it can be an interactive storytelling game. That both the GM/DM (game master/dungeon master – call the role what you will) and the players are able to weave a story, is just delightful! I could tell you stories about the dumb bomb, the eternal servitude one of our party pledged to a dragon without thinking, the mini-solar system that formed from an epic merging of spells, the misadventures of the adventuring group known as ‘Unfit Apocalypse,’ the self-made airship and resultant fast-food restaurant, and many others. It would take more space than you have patience for! So I’m really looking forward to being able to play with some of my former roommates.
In my next rambling, I’ll probably tell you a bit more of what I’ve been up to. Such as my adventures in teaching creative writing and wrangling books. And I think I owe you, my silent (but hopefully faithful) readership, some more work on my den. Until you stay a while and listen again!