Category Archives: gaming

Revisiting a Favorite Game: Zoombinis

I cleaned up my iPad and found Zoombinis. This game was one of my favorites long ago, an I’ve written about playing it more recently.

I started up a new game and, thanks to a bit of vacation, got up to the more difficult levels pretty quickly. I decided to enlist an expert and found this great resource from Miss Norledge that links Zoombinis to maths. For now, I’m working through her advice about the Sneezing Cliffs and set theory, but I am looking forward to reading the rest of her tips.

Economic Lesson: Playing the Rewards Point Game

I was informed by my cell phone provider that I have a ridiculous number of reward points in my account. I don’t mean to brag, but let’s just say it’s in the six digits. I earn points for my bill, for data and even for logging into their website. If earning lots of points is the goal of this game, I’m a winner.

The email had enticing pictures of rewards so I clicked the link, logged in (ca-ching, more points) and started surfing. I *could* use a new fitness tracker. They offered one but it came with a backpack I didn’t need and the amount of cash I still had to pay even with my points refund was more than Amazon was charging for the just the tracker, which is all I wanted.

And it turns out there wasn’t much else that was on my wish list. They do have gift cards. You get a 10% discount on the sticker price and give up 1,000 points. But that’s chump change, considering my point total. Gift cards for life!

My favorite hotel chain isn’t included in the travel rewards. I’m settled in for a lovely homebound winter so shoes, handbags and clothes don’t hold much interest although I did spend time checking out slippers and “lounging” clothes.

So, did I fail at this game, missing out on deals I earned just for using this particular carrier? Or, is this really what it seems to me: a kind of bait and switch commercialism that uses game elements as part of the incentive? Buy things you really don’t want or need at marginally discounted prices to make you feel like a winner for earning points for probably paying too much for cell service in the first place? So, did I win because I wasn’t sucked in?

I think it’s a stale mate. Let’s be honest: I’m not really playing the game. I have this carrier because it’s the best one in my area and I didn’t choose them based on their rewards program. And the carrier doesn’t seem to really care if I play. I can’t opt out of earning points but I can opt out of the enticing emails.

I can’t help but wonder how many people paid too much for trinkets, thinking what a great deal they got just for being a member of this particular tribe? Is this part of our economics education for students? The gamification of commerce?



Am I Justifying a Colossal Waste of Time Or….Am I Learning?

I had a long, busy week away from home last week. Lots of terrific meetings, both formal and informal, as part of the CoSN Conference and then a chance to play with robots and makey makeys with a bunch of K-12 educators on Friday.

I needed some down time this weekend. I gardened a bit, read a Steve Perry mystery, and played Zoombinis. I’m not a big gamer, but I have always loved solving logic problems and that’s the focus of Zoombinis. I fell in love with the first version of the game when it was first introduced in 1996. A new version was introduced in August 2015, and I signed right on.

I’ve been playing and reflecting on my progress through the game. I think the biggest lesson I’m learning is creating and implementing problem solving strategies.

Testing Variables: In the pizza trolls puzzle, you make a pizza based on the responses of the troll to various toppings. The first level is fairly straight forward but helps set the strategy: isolate and test each variable until you get the correct combination. Subsequent levels add more toppings AND trolls so keeping track of preferences requires a chart.

Enlisting Experts: I just couldn’t figure out how to succeed at the subsequent levels of  the Hotel Dimensia puzzle. Multiple variables have to be applied across a grid, and the rules around that deployment just escaped me. The grid itself is really a chart, but the puzzle comes with a time challenge so you need to establish the important variables very quickly in order to get all the Zoombinis through. No leisurely musing on this level. I struggled and knew I need more help so I headed to the web. The Hotel Dimensia page at Wikia was very helpful.

Purposeful Practicing: Zoombinis includes a practice mode that includes all puzzles and all levels. I worked through several Hotel Dimensia practice sessions, developing a strategy that I could apply in the real game. I really wanted to get better at this puzzle because it is on the path to the Mudball Wall, my favorite puzzle. Somehow, the pattern in that puzzle is easy for me to discern. I think it may be because I used to play it as a stand alone game on the web so I got lots of practice and have internalized the various patterns that can be made.

Embracing Failure: With Captain Cajun, you have to arrange the Zoombinis on a boat and you may or may not have the right combination. The game warns you that you may have to leave some of your Zoombinis behind. You will fail despite enlisting help or practicing.

Overcoming Failure: But, I have discovered a strategy to solve the Captain Cajun puzzles. Stack the deck. Literally. Once you are into the game, you often have your choice of Zoombinis to take with you through the next leg of the journey. So, you can arrange the Zoombinis ahead of time to make sure you have a combination that will fill the boat.

So, I am learning how to play the game using a variety of strategies. Some, like testing variables, are strategies I’ve applied outside the game while others, such as stacking the deck of Captain Cajun’s boat, are game specific. My biggest question is how much transfer takes place from the game into the world. In other words, if kids figure out the “testing variable” strategy for the pizzas, will they internalize that particular strategy and use it to solve problems outside of the game? Does the game foster a general understanding of formulating strategies for problem solving?


More on Gamifying Reading

I’ve written about gamifying reading before both here and at In One Place, my mostly reading blog. I’m continuing this approach as part of National Reading Month*, celebrated in March.

In The Story, Amazon’s new reading newsletter, they featured Book Bingo, a bingo card with ideas for different kinds of books to read. I printed it out and decided to go for a black out, filling in all the blocks. I’m two books in and will certainly not finish it by the end of the month, but I’m happy to keep playing for the rest of the year as a way to mix up my reading. It has already encouraged me to pull The Man in the High Castle off the shelf as an example of a genre I don’t usually read, that of alternate history.

Interested? You can download the bingo card here.

*I can’t seem to find the actual sponsor for National Reading Month. It’s linked to NEA’s Read Across America program that celebrates Dr. Seuss’s birthday at the beginning of the month.

How Do They Know?

When Beethoven or Mozart wrote a piano sonata, how did they know someone else might be able to play it the way it was supposed to be played? I am a piano player and I can “play” most anything both of these composers wrote as long as you don’t look at the time signature. If it says Allegro, I’m probably in trouble. If we think of a sonata as a game, it would mean I might only get one or two of the possible three stars available for that level.

Which brings me to the question that led to this entry: Do video game creators always know that you can beat the game or, as the scenario above suggests, play the game so that you achieve the highest level possible? I suspect they do some testing and with all the walkthroughs available, obviously someone figured out how to do it, but I found myself wondering as I work through a new game.

The Northern Tale series are time management building games of the sort that I love. Pick up resources, build sawmills and farms, repair roads and bridges, and complete various tasks to move through the levels. You can move on even if you get less than three starts but the bonus levels require a three-star rating on every level, something I normally can do without too much fatigue. But, Northern Tale has several levels that have stumped me. I actually gave up in the first series and still have two levels I haven’t beaten. In the second series, I just this morning managed to beat Level 25 with just seconds to go, following some walkthrough advice. But I still have another one that needs attention and the walkthrough advice didn’t seem to do the trick. I do find myself blaming the game as being laggy and unresponsive. (I clicked that button, darn it!, really I did!)

So, I found this video from Andrew Carboni very interesting as he explains why it may be our brains to blame:

Or maybe it’s because I’m distracted by typos 😉

Image of Game with Mispelled Word