Thursday, May 11, 2006

Games for lateral thinking

Moving on from the "games that make us cry" discussion (although you're free to keep posting comments on that post), I thought of another (side?) effect some games often have on me: lateral thinking.

This post was going to be entitled "games that make you think", but that would not be a precise description, and would end up leading to a debate on serious games. Plus, it could generate arguments such as "all games make you think". Those are valid discussions, and we might address them in the future but, for now, that's not what I mean.

A good comment on lateral thinking through games was once made by Gonzalo Frasca in his post about Warioware and the DS:

It was a nice experience, I could enjoy the match while having part of my mind thinking about other issues. Pong is the radio of videogames: you can play while doing other things.

I guess different games stimulate different forms of lateral thinking. For instance, I remember Worms Armageddon's Ninja rope training (the one where you had to keep swinging and collecting objects) as being great to formulate arguments and counter-arguments for hypothetical discussions. While I can't recall any actual topics, I remember vividly how I thought that game was a great exercise in dialetic (!).

Of course, this feeling could be limited to casual, close-to-casual, and mini-games, although racing games also have a similar effect on me. Plus, games with highly repetitive tasks might lead (or so I've read somewhere a long time ago) to a state of mind similar to meditation - which I'm not sure could be classified as lateral thinking, since it seems that it actually is the absence of thoughts (and in that case, it also might get its own post in the future).

Anyway, since we've been talking about unusual sensations caused by games, I thought of sharing this...


Anonymous said...

I really enjoy the start of Tetris where I can happily keep on top of everything and tidy up the advancing mess of blocks. It's a menial but satisfying task.

I find it relaxing. It doesn't dominate my mind- I'm free to think about other stuff.

But then it gets faster and faster. What was once an enjoyable experience starts to become a frustrating irriting and hopeless experience.

It demands more and more of my attention. Blocks out any other thoughts.

It would be interesting to explore how you could do a non game version of Tetris.

I generally think the "harder and faster" style of gameplay is a cheat. It's a human exploit- a shortcut to creating a game which will hold our attention.

Chris said...

In regard of repetitive tasks leading to a medititative state; this sounds like Flow theory. Any game which produces a high rate of engagement with no change in the core activity could achieve this, especially puzzle games. (It's also what Lazzaro calls 'Altered States').

In regard of Tetris, I never found the arcade convention of 'faster till you fail' very satisfying. This makes sense in a coin op world (the arcade needs you to put in another coin at some point!) but makes no sense at home.

I still rate the N64's The New Tetris as the best Tetris version thus far. Putting aside its improvements to the core play, such as swapping out a piece, and the silver and gold blocks, its modes were just right. We became attached to the one (Sprint?) which gives you a few minutes to score as highly as possible; because it was time limited, one didn't have to worry about it speeding up and instead did 'the start' over and over again, in a highly hypnotic fashion.

I haven't seen the DS Tetris to know what it's like, alas.

chico queiroz said...

Thanks for the indication, Chris. Here's an article on Lazzaro's work, published at

Hoofin Dan said...

This is a terrible admission to make...but what the hell.

I enjoy watching my hardrive defragment. It's like the ultimate non-game Tetris.

I like seeing the horrible mess of different coloured blocks of my computer slowly getting gnibbled away and sorted into nice clean blocks of colour.

What I'd really like is for the movement of the various packets of data to trigger different ambient noises- percussive beats and orchestral sweeps.

If these sounds were matched to beautiful visual pulses and colours then suddenly a menial task could become something beautiful- something which is personal to you.

Hmm. Not the sort of thing to talk about in the pub.

chico queiroz said...

It´s a little bit sad, but I see your point, and I have myself felt that reassuring feeling watching the bad blocks being replaced by good ones.

And I do feel, by the end of the process, that the time it took was well employed - that something now is fresh, clean and ready for a new start.

Progress Bars can´t be that poetic.

Ryan said...

So what are people's record scores? Wonder what the record-highs are...


Sprint: 488
Ultra: 00:38 seconds

Copyright, Chico Queiroz