Saturday, October 31, 2015

A deeper look into the benefits of playing games by genre

No, I am definitely not going to talk about how the violence shown in computer games is bad. I grew up shooting and slicing creatures, animals and people in most of the games I played, but I didn't grow up a felon. Playing such games was just a way to vent out and entertain myself. Teachers or games can teach kids many things, but the core values must be thought at home, so let's stop blaming the School System, the Hollywood Movies or the Computer Games Industry for the everyday failure of parenting and for the lack of grown up attention that our modern world children are suffering from!

There is much difference between game genres and their real life value for the player. Let's first take a look at the one that I believe has the lowest potential of teaching important skills: Arcade Games
 
Super Mario: the ultimate jump and run video game
Super Mario: the ultimate jump and run game
I have to admit that I am not a big fan of arcade games. Initially, they were built to take as many coins as possible from the person playing and they achieve that by constantly putting the main character in countless unexpected death situations. To be able to reach the end of an arcade game, the player must learn, through infinite trial and error sequences, when and where all the enemies will be showing up from as well as the timing and location of  all obstacles. There isn't much value in those games besides the provided visual and hearing experience that helps the players by taking their mind away from everyday problems for the duration of the game (in many cases that is until the player gets more frustrated with the game than he is with life). However, the arcade games still have value as they teach the following important lesson: learning from your previous mistakes in the process of trial and error, you can achieve more, advance further and eventually reach your final goal. That is a very valuable lesson for the kids to learn through playing those jump and run arcade games or seek and hide shooters. However, I see a big problem with the unlimited save and load options, because real life is not like that as we can't go back and fix things every single time we make a mistake. I am not saying that save and load should be removed completely, all I am trying to say is that they should be limited to specific locations in the game and loss of life or failure shouldn't be happening as often.

My personal opinion is that there is much more real world value in the Role Playing Games genre. Here we will use the example of the best one of them all during my prime as a gamer: Diablo 2

I very much enjoyed clicking the mouse button countless times all over the screen to defeat the next evil creature that crossed paths with me in Diablo 2. However, using the mouse over your enemies, in that otherwise excellent RPG, is a neat trick which gives the player just an illusion of control. It doesn't matter how quickly you click the mouse button nor how hard you click it. The hit points are calculated not on the player's actions, but on the skills and equipment gathered previously in the game. In addition to building confidence (like in the arcade games), the RPGs teach other very important character traits such as curiosity and patience, through making you seek, combine and carefully use items while carefully preparing for the next big encounter. The battles you pick and the enemies you choose to fight, teach another very important life lesson: taking calculated risks. However, this genre still lacks presenting the player with any meaningful choices that would affect the outcome of the adventure and would change the narrative one way or another. In other words, this game is almost as linear as the arcade jump and run games we discussed above.

Warlords II
I have to admit that my second favorite genre is Strategy (if you haven't guessed yet, my most favorite one is the Gamebook Adventures, but more on that in the next post).

Warcraft II
Heroes of Might and Magic V
Just for the record, there are two kinds of Strategy Games: Real Time Strategy and Turn Based Strategy. I like both of them equally well, because they all teach the player finding, collecting, preserving and well planned investing (using) of resources. There is no linearity in this genre at all as it gives complete freedom of exploring the world through providing unlimited combinations of possible decisions on how to collect and how to use resources, what kind of structures to build, what kind of army to use, when and where to attack the enemy for the most gain. To summarize, this genre teaches the player the same skills as the arcade and role playing games: confidence and taking calculated risks, but it also adds another extremely valuable lesson: management of resources. Just to name a few of my favorite titles here, I have to mention Warlords 2, Warcraft 2 and Heroes of Might and Magic 5. Needless to say, my love to Strategy games and the resource management experience I gained through them, proved very important later on, when I was running a successful business.

Before I finish this post, I feel obligated to mention another genre with a lot of potential that combines everything we discussed above and it adds another layer of real life experience. I am talking about the Computer Simulations. Their potential is great, because these games are supposed to recreate real life situations, but only a very limited number of products in this genre have achieved that to it's fullest extent. My applause here goes to Simon Read and his franchise New Star Soccer. It added a whole new dimension by showing the importance of social relationships with the boss, colleagues, friends, parents, spouse and kids, for achieving success at the ultimate goal: becoming a soccer star.

In conclusion, I would like to say that, by focusing on the visual and hearing satisfaction of the player, game developers have been failing to implement a very important element in their products: critical thinking. As Earl Nightingale pointed out in his recording "The Strangest Secret", when the late Nobel prize-winning Dr. Albert Schweitzer was asked by a reporter, "Doctor, what is wrong with men today?" the answer given was "Men simply don't think". Well, my personal opinion is that humans don't think, just because they are not thought to do so. See, games are failing not at the diversity of narrative (it is quite alright to have a linear story), they are failing at presenting the player with meaningful choices that would eventually affect the outcome of the adventure. This is exactly where Gamebook Adventures have always been strong at and we will discuss that in my next post:
The great potential of Gamebook Adventures and what is wrong with them

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Psychology of Games and why they are very important for kids and for adults

Regardless of the general opinion that games are a waste of time, I will prove to you that they actually are very important for adults and they are even more important for character building in kids, because they teach skills that are extremely valuable for the future success in life.

According to John Gray, author of the famous book "Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus", in order to relax from the stress experienced in real life, men often feel the need to disengage their mind from the problems of the day. In order to get unstuck from our own problems, we tend to focus on solving other little problems, like reading the news, watching sports, playing a game, and so forth. I would like to argue that games are the best form of distraction as they not only help us detach from everyday stress, but also make us feel good and more confident by helping us prove to ourselves that we can still overcome different obstacles and achieve many goals, regardless of how bad we could feel at any given moment. If we don't let games become an obsession, they not only entertain us, but they can help us relax and can also contribute to improving our self-image and self-esteem.

Games are even more important for kids, but for completely different reasons. Childhood is the part of life during which we get prepared for our future as adults. Games let children do that through simulating situations where the trial and error exercises don't have the same impact as failure in real life. More importantly, achieving success in games builds confidence and motivation. Those two character traits make all the difference in the world for the success of the child later on, when it becomes a grown up. You can find more on the importance of motivation and confidence in the bestseller book "See you at the top" by Zig Ziglar and in the award winning audio recording "The Strangest Secret" by the very famous motivational speaker Earl Nightingale.

Why do people love overcoming obstacles and setting goals? Why are those so important for our success in file? The study of Evolutionary Biology has found the answers to these questions too and we will now explore this subject in the next paragraph.

By default, humans are some greedy creatures. We always want more than what we already have and we are never completely satisfied. After achieving one goal, we always set another, even more demanding than the one before. This may sound very offensive to many people, but in reality it is not all that bad, because greediness is the very reason for the evolution and advancement of the human species. We need motivation to reach new heights and that motivation is driven by our strive for always wanting more and more out of life. Once motivated enough, we set a new goal and we constantly fight for it through overcoming countless obstacles until it is eventually achieved. Sure enough, sometimes we tend to give up if we start thinking that our goal is impossible to reach. Also, some people tend to give up more often than others, because they think they have failed after just a few attempts. Others keep fighting and never stop until they succeed. Failure is not an option for them. For people like that we say that "everything they touch turns to gold", but that doesn't mean that everything comes naturally easy to them. All of us, without any exception, start out like that in the very beginning of our wondrous journey through the miracle of life. It is a fact that babies don't ever give up on learning how to walk even though they fail countless times before actually walking completely on their own. The situation is exactly the same regarding the process of learning to talk. If we didn't have that strive for achieving goals genetically programmed in our genes, we would have never been able to walk, talk or do anything else that makes us different from the animal kingdom.

We just explained why, from evolutionary perspective, humans enjoy setting goals and overcoming obstacles. Using the system of trial and error, given the safe conditions of no effect in the real world, games are arguably the best way to teach children some significant personal qualities such as patience, persistence, motivation, critical thinking, taking calculated risks, making important choices based on educated guessing, growing strive for exploring, discovering and learning. All of the above result in building healthy self-esteem image and personal confidence. We already covered the importance of those character traits for the future life success in the text above.

Of course, not all games teach the same lessons and some of the game genres have more real life value than others, so in my next post we will take a closer look at some of the genres and some of the games that I have experienced myself. I will try to break them down to their real world values and highlight the subtle messages they instill in the mind of the player while teaching important skills.

Follow me to a deeper look into the benefits of playing diffenent game genres

Friday, October 23, 2015

How my Passion for Games became the reason for my Business Success

Today I will tell you how my passion for games became the very reason for my personal and business success, but let me first share with you a little bit more about myself.

I was born in Communist Bulgaria in 1979 and grew up in the Post Communist Economy of the Eastern Block. I moved to the United States right after graduating college at age of 23 and I currently live in the Greater Chicagoland Area. I consider myself a successful businessman as I am the President and CEO of American Limo Naperville and I proudly hold the rank of Road Captain of Marine One Limousine at Operation "Welcome You Home". You can find more information about my personal story and my business success here: American Limo Naperville Concept and History

Before you start thinking that I became a millionaire by starting a limousine company and to avoid any further confusion, we need to define the word "success". To the most part, the idea of success is very relative, because of the fact that every person has a different value system and therefore very different goals. This is why, I believe that Earl Nightingale, the pioneer motivational speaker and father of self-improvement recordings, found the perfect definition of success when he stated that "success is a progressive realization of a worthy ideal" or as he simplifies it "success is the person who is working toward a predetermined goal". I am a success not because I have a lot of money (I make enough to pay the bills), but because I enjoy my work and I have dreams and goals and I constantly work to achieve them through improving myself and my business.

There is a direct correlation between my success and the games I played as a kid, especially the Gamebooks I was exposed to at that time, but more on that in a moment. Let me start from the very beginning...

Pravetz 8M: the communist block Apple II clone
Pravetz 8M: stolen technology from Apple II
I was first introduced to computer games at age 7, long before any of my friends. There were no game consoles in communist Bulgaria at the time. The only reason I had the chance to play a video game back then is that my father was working as an engineer at a local factory and he had a clone of Apple II in his office. Naturally, I got addicted to the computer games and I wanted to spend more and more time at my dad's office :-)

Realizing that I was hooked up, my parents decided to put my computer addiction to good use and for my 9th birthday, they got me a book on game programming for kids. The book was an introduction to the Apple II Basic Programming language. I've always been a curious person ever since I was a little kid. My parents still remind me of a toy I had broken, just to find out how it was made and what forced the toy go back to its initial position every time I tilted it :-) Given my personality trait, I was naturally very excited that I can learn how the computer games worked and how they were made. However, my little 9 year old brain had a lot of trouble comprehending all the information in the book at that time and it wasn't until I tried studying it again at age 11, when everything cleared up and I was able to start thinking in source code language. I wanted to make computer games ever since.

Being bored with the limited games available on the Apple II and the fact that, to the most part I didn't like their arcade jump and run mechanics, I rediscovered my passion when the XT Personal Computers came out in the early 90's. They were still unaffordable to the average citizen, but we were able to enjoy the new games at the Computer Clubs that some entrepreneurs opened in their garages. We had limited access to those computers as they were available for rent at a relatively expensive price per the hour. To entertain myself for free, I was writing my own little games on my Apple II, based on ideas that came from my favorite games at those Computer Clubs. I just have to mention a few big names here: Warlords 2, Dune 2, Warcraft 2, Heroes of Might and Magic 2, Lands of Lore and later on Diablo 2.

As already explained in the text above, my knowledge in programming languages started with Basic for Apple II, but it eventually evolved to Turbo Pascal and then Delphi. I have built many little games throughout the years for my own satisfaction, but the problem of those computer languages was that at a certain point, they were no longer compatible with the lightning fast improving computers systems. I finally discovered Blitz Basic in 2006 that was very close to the languages I had worked on before, and luckily enough it is still compatible with any Windows running machine.

None of the games I had created, ever made it to being released, but the knowledge I had gained in game programming finally became useful when me and my father started American Limo Naperville. Having the computer skills necessary, I built every single aspect of the software system for my company, including the modules for reservations, dispatching, accounting, keeping track of the whereabouts of the drivers and informing the customers through text messages of their limousine status and estimated time of arrival. This innovative and very unique software puts us far ahead of any competition in our service area to this day.

Here and now, I should probably take a moment to tell my mother that all the time spent in front of the computer in my teenage years was not wasted and it is finally paying off ;-)

I know for a fact, my computer programming skills that started with my love for computer games, stand behind the success of the family owned business American Limo Naperville, because the software I developed to run the daily operations makes this company different than all others and puts us so far ahead of anybody else in this industry.

That is not the only aspect of computer games that helped me become a success. Playing mostly Gamebooks, Strategies and RPGs, I had gained a lot of experience in critical thinking, I learned to understand collecting, preserving and investing resources for the best possible gain and last, but not the least, I fell in the habit of always making decisions based on calculated risk.

I believe that I owe my personal and professional success to the various games I played as a kid and to the lessons I learned from them, but more on that I will discuss in the next post: The Psychology Aspect of Games and why they are important for kids and adults alike.

What is an Interactive Visual Gamebook Adventure?

Hello, Friends!

I guess that the first question that comes to mind is "Why VISUAL GAMEBOOK ADVENTURES?"

First, we have to define the word GAMEBOOK.

Simply put, a gamebook is a printed book in which the reader takes control over the main character by making choices that affect the storyline and therefore the final outcome of the adventure. You "play" a gamebook by trying to guess the correct actions for your character and make him/her follow the right path to the successful ending of the story.

Assuming that most of the readers of this blog are already familiar with the Gamebooks genre, I am going to continue to the second important word in the slogan: VISUAL

Second, we are going to explain why the word VISUAL exists in the above sentence.

To do so, I need to share with you that as a teenager, I enjoyed the Gamebook Adventures very much. However, very often I found the sections of those books filled with too much text for my liking, forcing me to quick scan the text for the possible outcome and moving right to the decision making process. There is a very fine line between telling a good story and boring the reader out with too much text.

I believe that the solution to the problem of balance between telling a good story and boring the reader out with too much text is to use visual stimulation. Sure enough, a single picture can't completely replace a good sentence that will let you dive deep into the story, just like a movie is often not as good as reading the book it is based on. That is why, the balance between text and picture is very important too and there is much more room for appeal to the average consumer here.

Another reason for really going forward with this idea of mine is not only that I've been thinking about it longer than 20 years, but also the fact that Gamebooks fail to completely satisfy the human senses such as sight (visual) and hearing (audio) when Video Games are focusing exclusively on the senses and reflexes, failing entirely to give the player satisfaction of making choices that can affect the outcome of the story - positive or negative. I just can't believe that the video game developers have been failing in that aspect ever since the beginning of the computer game genre.

I will review more on that and on the psychology aspect of playing games in my third post.

The next one will be about How my Passion for Games became the reason for my Business Success.

That's it for today, folks. Thank you for reading!