Recent Posts

Friday, October 30, 2009

Questionaut: Out of This World Game

Tucked away in the BBC Bitesize KS2 Games section is a quirky little game called Questionaut. It has no flashy intro and no instructions, and that's precisely the way its creator intends it.

Questionaut begins with a placid enough scene: a strangely hairy, organic shape floats freely in space, accompanied by some funky synth music. A fish jumps in a pond, a creature sitting in a tree weaves a basket, and a small blue figure wearing pilot's cap and goggles dangles his foot over the pond. But nothing happens. So instinctively, the user moves the cursor about, looking for some clues. When placed over the basket, the cursor turns to the familiar pointer finger (this is about as much help as the user will get!) and from here the adventure begins.

Each level presents its own mysteries, which must first be solved with the cursor (what needs to be clicked first, then next?) and then through a series of general knowledge questions. Stage One, for example, (pictured below) asks questions related to reading, writing, and grammar. Others stages include questions on various math and science concepts. Each stage is populated by its own peculiar cast of characters and grooves to its own unique soundtrack.

Most animation and online gaming fans will immediately recognize that the creator of this addictive game is Czech developer/designer Jakub Dvorsky, best known for his popular online Flash game called Samorost. In Dvorsky's own words,

"Samorost" in Czech means a root or piece of wood which resembles a creature; but it is also a term for a person who doesn't care about the rest of the world. I think it's a nice Czech word which has various meanings.

A fitting name, since the goal of the game is to help a small white gnome through a puzzling series of tasks intended to divert a gigantic mass of floating driftwood from colliding with his home planet. Okay, so it's hard to describe, but very addicting to play.

Samorost became so popular that it now has a sequel in which the gnome embarks on a longer quest to rescue his kidnapped dog (chapter one can be played for free, while additional chapters can be played by purchasing the full version for a mere $5).

I'm not here to sell the game. I'm here to sell the idea that teachers should be including games like this in their curriculum, rather than dismissing them as "wastes of time." Dvorak's games require critical thinking skills and an ability to "fill in the gaps" between what is known and what is unknown. They also appeal to a student's natural curiosity and desire for play. And I think we can all agree, his games simply look and sound unlike anything we've seen out there before.

Let's all hope for more collaborations between Dvorak and online ed sites in the future.