In elementary school, you may remember playing games such as Oregon Trail, Operation Neptune, or Reader Rabbit. Those games showed the prowess of games in the educational field. Today, games such as Portal and Minecraft are used commonly across various educational fields to teach problem-solving techniques and compel imagination, but there are tons of other games available for students with even the most remote interest in gaming. This list will cover indie games relative to a dozen different studies at VIU, so you can keep your brain busy between breaks.
Kerbal Space Program is, in essence, a space flight simulator in which players must successfully engineer a spaceship for launch. The construction must be realistically accurate in its design, but players have the freedom to build any type of spacecraft as long as it’s structurally sound. Players even have the option to recreate historical crafts such as those from Apollo or the ISS. KSP has also been applauded for its realistic depiction of orbital physics and has attracted the attention of NASA and the scientific community. KSP is currently only available on PC, but a mobile/tablet clone called Simple Rockets is also available.
While certainly not as scientifically sound as KSP, Surgeon Simulator 2013 allows players to perform “life-saving” surgery. Surgeon Simulator is for the anatomy student with a sick sense of humour, as players are not punished for completing tasks in over-the-top ways, such as forcibly removing each rib before ripping the patient’s heart out with their bare hands. It’s funny and gory with odd controls that match the tone of the game.
Sokobond, on the other hand, is a minimalistic puzzle game about chemistry. Each top-down puzzle has players creating different chemical formulas by piecing together atoms. Sokobond is a logical and sophisticated game for the other end of the spectrum, and perfect for anyone interested in chemistry.
Political Studies/ Social Sciences:
Another game with a more serious tone is Papers Please, a simulation/puzzle game set in a fictional communist country. Players take control of an immigration officer who has won the work lottery. The job is simple: follow the rulebook and either approve or deny the passports of potential immigrants. The more passports stamped in a day, the more money made for the family. However, as the country’s political agenda changes, so does the rulebook. It soon becomes too difficult to stamp enough passports as players are obligated to check more and more details, and until they are pressured to make trade-offs and under-the-table deals in order to feed their family. It’s a game unlike any other, and shows an interesting direction in the medium.
The Stanley Parable is a self-aware argument against videogame tropes and the psychology behind playing. Originally a Half-Life 2 mod, developer Davey Wreden has recently released a complete stand-alone version that’s a starkly funny commentary on videogames and the way we play. Players simply walk and follow the instructions of the game’s narrator, or disobey and thus alter the narrative. It’s not a Master’s thesis on videogame psychology, but it is thoroughly enjoyable and a must-play for anyone interested in satire. Meanwhile, there’s a raging debate on whether interactive fictions are truly games.
Dear Esther, in which players simply walk around an island as a narrator tells an allegorical short story, has sparked debates on what defines a videogame. Even the recent award winner, Gone Home, in which players interact with various things around the character’s home in order to solve a mystery, has some arguing against its validity in the genre.
Visual Arts/ Graphic Design:
Enough of the heavy-handed stuff. Thomas Was Alone is a narrative-driven puzzle-platformer in which players control a 2D, colored rectangle named Thomas. Each new character Thomas meets is another geometric shape, each with their own movement properties. Despite the minimalism in the graphics, characters are perceived to have their own personalities, and the world an atmosphere.
Another achievement in graphic design is Device-6. Developed by the surprisingly eclectic Swedish iOS studio Simogo, Device-6 is a short-story puzzle mystery wrapped up in some of the most unique gameplay around. Requiring players to rotate their device in order to read and analyze the text of the story, Device-6 allows for a fourth-wall breaking experience. It’s both minimalist and complex, and has earned its spot as a finalist for Indie Games Festivals Excellence in Visual Art award.
The music/rhythm genre has been a busy one ever since Guitar Hero hit the scene nearly ten years ago. Since the death of the GH brand however, the AAA focus has diminished as the indie scene has taken over. Enter 140. Developed by Jeppe Carlson, known for his work on the award winning Limbo, 140 is a musical platformer that has players sync up with the beat of the game, with the titular number referencing the BPM. Last year, the game won the IGF Excellence in Audio award for its masterful fusion of music and gameplay. 140 is only available on PC, but other excellent musical indies such as the Bit. Trip series are available on both PC and mobile.
There’s a number of tycoon games out there, including the wildly popular Roller Coaster Tycoon, but business simulator Game Dev Tycoon has nothing to do with theme parks. Like The Stanley Parable, Game Dev Tycoon is a satire of the game industry. Players will make their way through the history of videogames by starting as a poor indie developer in the ‘80s and creating a profitable business for the ages. Creating games, buying licences, and the whole game development shebang is covered. Last year, Game Dev Tycoon was picked up by the International Business Times and earned a 9/10 review from them. Again, the game is only available on PC, but its original inspiration Game Dev Story is available on iOS and Android.
For something a little more modern, try mobile hit Tiny Towers which won Apple’s iPhone game of the year in 2011.