Donkey Kong

•March 22, 2009 • Leave a Comment

Victory comes in the form of delayed death.

Donkey Kong

Donkey Kong, has relatively harmless storyline, besides perhaps exploiting some cultural and gender stereotypes. The hero is Mario, a modestly dressed working-class underdog. The prize is a princess/damsel in distress. The controls allow the hero to move up, down, left and right and to jump. In special instances he can attack obstacles for a limited time with a hammer. Mario has three lives that can be taken by contact with any of the moving objects, falling off the edge, or contact with the gorilla.

  • Level 1 — Mario ascends a ramp and ladder structure in order to rescue the damsel in distress at the top. She is held captive by a giant gorilla who tries to undermine Mario’s approach by rolling deadly barrels. The barrels follow a random gravity-based  pattern down the structure. The hero can either jump over them or out-maneuver them. The barrels can also be destroyed during a short period by hammer. No sooner does Mario successfully reach the top, than the damsel is taken from him and the challenge continues to the next level.
  • Level 2 — The structure changes to a five-story flat structure with conveyor belts. The obstacles are now “cement trays” that are deadly if walked on, and roving fireballs that cannot be jumped over. Here, too the damsel is taken away after a brief jubilation upon successful completion.
  • Level 3— Elevators present new challenges while avoiding fireballs and deadly bouncing objects falling from the sky. Level of difficulty has drastically increased. Once again, completion results in disappointment as the damsel is taken to the next level.
  • Level 4 — The level of complication has now increased. The hero must remove eight supporting rivets in a structure supporting the Gorilla. For the first time, Mario attacks his opponent directly. Deadly fireballs are now the primary threat. Removing the final rivet defeats the gorilla and finishes the game conclusively. Mario is rewarded with the damsel. The game is over, and begins again from level 1.


The game is decidedly individualistic.  The hero leads a solitary mission where he cannot reason nor negotiate with his opponent.

Task Orientation:

In Level 1 the player is offered a narrow strategic route. The task focuses primarily on reacting to the opponents obstacles. For success, the player has to learn a set of patterns and act accordingly without the possibility of taking initiative.

In higher levels, as the obstacles become more persistent, little improves for Mario. His opponent attacks harder, but his skills do not improve. Our hero can only predict his opponents actions by pattern, his own behaviour does not affect his opponents strategy. The hero is passive and reactive.

Type of Learning:

-Information vs. Experience

-Cognitive: The player has to memorize the pattern with which his opponent attacks as a basis for the application of their own strategy. In higher levels the player applies a strategy after some analysis of the situation.

-Affective: The game presents no opportunities for social interaction, nor is the player motivated to grow, create or improve through their experience. Rewards are short-lived and the stakes of the prize (the damsel) are based more on point accumulation and level success than meaningful relations. The player cannot reach high levels of affective learning as he can do nothing more than react to his opponent. His actions have no effect on the opponent strategy and so he can never be overcome to the players full satisfaction. Victory is simply a postponement of death.

-Psychomotor: There are opportunities to exercise perception skills (avoiding obstacles) creating mind-set (learning patterns) and guided-response (following through on an attack plan). The player does not benefit from any the higher forms of knowledge involving manipulating and altering his environment, with the exception of limited adaptation and variation while exploring the properties of the game.


Despotic and Conformist. The relationship between player and game is one of desperate hero vs. insurmountable opponent. The gorilla represents a central figure of despotic regime who cannot be reasoned with. His resources are unlimited while the hero is marred with limitations and taxation. Success remains on the gorilla’s terms in that the hero has to conform to a unchangeable system of obstacles. The gorilla is simply a figurehead in a hostile set of patterns that are inescapable and increasingly unreasonable.

In conclusion: The game presents some difficult challenges and is good training for low-level coordination skills. It does not have enough opportunities for the player to take initiative and construct meaningful strategies for the game to remain compelling. The moral message is one of despair and bondage that will likely cause deep rooted frustration over time. These are the reasons few people still play it.



•March 16, 2009 • Leave a Comment
The Prison-maze of Pac-man

The Prison-maze of Pac-man


The hero is a circular creature living in a two dimensional maze world who is compelled to consume white dots in his path. He is led by the goal of consuming all of the dots in the maze, evading the ghost sentinels and point accumulation for the player. Ghost sentinels patrol in predictable patterns and attack on sight. Pac-man can only defend himself if he consumes a special “magic” dot at which point sentinels flee and can be destroyed. When destroyed they are quickly replaced. Once the level is complete, a new identical but slightly faster level must then be completed.

Culture: Individualistic. Even in two-player versions, players compete inconclusively against each other for higher number of points.

Task Orientation: Passive. The player decides on Pac-man’s strategy, but most of the activity is in reaction to the game variables. The hero is bound to his fate and can do little to improve his situation.

Type of Learning: Very little is learned from the experience of playing the game. The knowledge acquired in the game lies mostly in memorizing the sentinel’s patterns. There is no variation to the patterns from level to level besides the opponents speed. Behaviour is affected by reacting to set of patterns by the opponent. Through observation, trial and error and series of  simple decisions (up, down, left, right) the player traces and optimum path in response to a simple model.

Doctrine: Conformist. In order to be successful, the player needs to take on a protocol that values constant consumption without consequence or purpose beyond increased point accumulation. Success also relies on reacting to a system that does not evolve. Neither the player nor the opponent adapt their strategy. The motive degenerates to attrition and endurance more and more in favour of the opponent, until the conditions are unreasonable. Ultimately the player can never defeat the opponent nor accomplish the task to any result.


Culture: Individualistic, Competitive
Task Orientation: Passive, Reactive
Type of Learning:

Cognitive: Memorization, Low-level Application

Affective: Behaviour

Psychomotor: Perception, Mindset, Guided Response

Doctrine: Conformist, Despotic

Link to online flash version of the game:

Link to further reading: /.=20

Here is an interesting twist. Pac-man in zero-gravity presents the same prison conditions as the classic. In this case, there is the added educational element of gravitational familliarity that exists in Donkey Kong. It also virtually eliminates the players ability to identify sentinel attack patterns. The game is slightly more compelling, but far too frustrating to commit to. Thanks Christian for the link.

The Standard!

•March 14, 2009 • Leave a Comment

Parents, teachers and gamers need a standard for assessing the educational values of video games. Video game critics and reviewers tend to study the entertainment value and cognitive value while sites like [] give ratings based on graphic content. Our society show concern with the impact of video game son the population by asking if video games cause violence. The question itself is too simplistic. The real queston is what are users learning from the experience of playing these games. There is no reliable assessment system that studies the moral content of a game, nor its educational properties.

I propose to analyse a series of video games for their cognitive and moral developmental properties. To demonstrate the structure of my analysis I will begin with basic games, and move my way up.

Games can be assessed on a variety of qualities. The current rubrics focus mainly on appropriateness of content, cognitive educational value and entertainment value. These are for the most part incomplete and unscientific.

Educational elements that I will focus on:

Culture: Individualistic vs. Group Oriented
Task Orientation: Active vs. Passive
Type of Learning:

-Information vs. Experience





-Conformist vs. Dynamic

-Despotic, Oligarchical, Republican, Democratic, etc.

Some games will have qualities on both ends of the spectrum (ie: certain elements of the game will require individualistic approaches while others are group oriented.)