Category Archives: Games about academia

Digital games set in academia. May be accurate, exaggerated, spoof, or only tangentially connected with academia.

Game Studies: the game

A game about academic game studies; how meta. Or perhaps, recursive. The Kill Screen headline asks if we really need academics to study videogames. Hmmm.

And so we have the game of Game Studies. This simple HTML5/WebGL game is playable in your web browser. The rest of the website is worth a wander around, too.

“A series of five short levels, the game is simple: get the man to the goal by clicking on the ground until he walks there. Along the course of each level, the game will lampoon one of five different theories, whether by having the player dive into a pool to demonstrate “immersion”, having them walk into a circle to demonstrate “the magic circle,” having them play baseball while listening to Snow White to demonstrate the conflict between “ludology and narratology,” and the like.”

I look forward to “Game Studies: the movie”, and hope Robert De Niro with a convincing beard plays me.

Old school text adventures. Set in old schools.

Online searches often turn up interesting text adventures, either new or – from more technologically simpler times – historical. Pleasingly, a query in late 2014 revealed some text adventures from a quarter of a century or so ago, which were set in academia.

From 1988, Dudley Dilemma is set in Harvard University. From the screenshots it appears to be a basic and standard text adventure. From even further back in 1987, Infocom themselves released the acclaimed Lurking Horror, which though initially set in a large MIT-like American university, soon veers off into somewhat unsettling horror.

Two other text adventures from back in the/that day I’ve been playing of late are Save Princeton and Ditch Day Drifter. Both of these can still be played by using a TADS-compatible interpreter (I’ve been using Splatterlight on my Mac).

The former of these, co-authored by Jacob Weinstein who also provided much of the information in this note, is unsurprisingly set in Princeton University. This is an “exaggerated, slapsticky version of life as an undergraduate”, where the aim of the adventure isn’t immediately apparent. A screenshot from near the start:

Screenshot from Save Princeton

Ditch Day Drifter, on the other hand, was developed in 1990, set at Caltech. According to Jacob this is closer to real life than some other text adventures set in a university, since it portrayed Caltech’s “Ditch Day“, which is basically a big real-world adventure game. Another screenshot:

Screenshot from Ditch Day Drifter

Both of these are quite enjoyable to play and, as you do with text adventures, experiment with to see what the parser recognises, allows and acts on.

Secret Sartre

Games about human life are often interesting, and for those in academia, or who survived academia, games about university life specifically can hold a special fascination. From Scandinavia, here’s the introduction to a card-based game (complete with the card designs). Secret Sartre:

In Secret Sartre, the faculty members of an unnamed university department battle for ideological supremacy. A fragile alliance of upstanding rationalists, logical positivists, empiricists, liberal humanists, scientists and other fetishizers of the Enlightenment must work together to stem the rising tide of postmodernism. Watch out, though – there are closet postmodernists among you, and someone is Secret Sartre.

At the beginning of the game, each player is secretly assigned to one of three roles: Science, Postmodernism, or Sartre. Sartre plays for the postmodern team, and the postmodernists know who Sartre is, but most of the time Sartre does not know who his fellow postmodernists are. The Scientists are far out on the autism spectrum and don’t know who anyone is.

The scientists win by enacting five rational policies or having Sartre fired. The postmodernists win by enacting six postmodernist policies, or if Sartre is elected Head of Studies late in the game. As postmodernist policies are enacted, the Department Chair gains new powers. Even scientists may find themselves tempted to enact postmodernist policies that help them control the table and assassinate their enemies.

From the rules, how the cards appear:

Secret Sartre cards

This isn’t a quick game to pick up; the rules need a bit of figuring out, and a familiarity with card games, and academic research philosophy, helps somewhat. You also need several players to make the full benefit of Secret Sartre. But even if you don’t play, the description of the rules is amusing, and it’s an interesting way of comparing and contrasting academic and research positions.

Particle Clicker

From last summer, Particle Clicker (PC) is a resource accumulation game in the same mould as Cookie Clicker – but this time with particle physics research, academics, and funding. Click repeatedly on the collider to generate data. Turn data into research to gain funding and increase your reputation. Spend your funding on human resources and upgrades – don’t forget to buy beer to keep your research students happy, and coffee to keep them awake!

Clicker games are, in functionality, about as simple as you can get. There’s usually not many decisions to make (Particle Clicker has more than most), some clicking to do when you feel like it, and things happen in the background whether you click or not. In essence, you accumulate (initially by clicking a lot) some attribute that is measured purely numerically. As you gain more of this attribute, you can decide what to spend it on; often, these are elements which increase the rate at which the attribute accumulates. And that’s it. There’s usually no end goal or target; you just accumulate more and more of whatever the base attribute is, and you stop playing when you lose interest.

One of the aspects of PC which makes it more interesting than most clicker games is the technical/content accuracy within; the game was developed at the CERN summer student webfest by physics students. Expand (ironically, by clicking on it) this screenshot which was taken a few minutes into a new game:

Particle Clicker screenshot

In the centre is the particle collider, the thing you click on to get more of the ‘data’ attribute. In the left-hand column are technically accurate physics concepts; expand on these and you can read more detailed information, often with links to academic papers. In the right-hand columns are essentially power-ups which you can attain to increase attribute generation; as you can see, these are sometimes a satirical nod to academic physics research. Here’s some screenshots – [1] [2] [3] [4] – from when the game has been played/left running for a while.

Particle Clicker is free and online, and is instant and about as easy as you can get to play. You just … click. It’s a neat way to both slide some optional knowledge about physics under the noses of players (in effect, your rewards for leveling up are access to this knowledge), and to make some remarks about the academic research process. Give it a go.

p.s. as an amusing side-point, one comment about playing Particle Clicker was:

“There is something inordinately depressing about procrastinating by fake doing the things that I should be real doing.”