Grab a pencil. Take some notes. We’re taking a closer look at how, what, and why games teach.
Words: Kent Sutherland and Jamin Brophy-Warren quiz Don Rawlitsch on the history of The Oregon Trail. Ben Abraham cruises through the Australian outback of Fuel. Ryan Bradley explores the inner play life of babies. Patrick Cassels decodes the mysteries of box art. Rob Dubbin interrogates a trader about the financial lessons of StarCraft. Simon Ferrari wonders if videogames can save the news business. Ed Fries sees beauty in constraint in his game Halo 2600. Ben Fritz disappears in the Shadow of the Colossus. Zack Handlen wrestles with his childhood via an unhelpful Nintendo tip-line operator. Brendan Keogh recreates Halo with his schoolmates. Mitu Khandaker questions her own existence as a videogame academic. Laura Michet bounces through the world of the NASA-created Moonbase Alpha. Emily Short toes the line between learning and designing. Brian Taylor navigates digital worlds and our own. David Wolinsky meditates on the historical accuracy of Assassin's Creed II with its resident historian. Rob Zacny asks why the world wasn’t ready for a Chinese learning MMO Pangea Online.
Art: A comic from James Kolchalka. Nicholas Felton tracks his progress in Red Dead Redemption. Emanuele Sferruzza Moszcowicz peers into the dreams of Kellee Santiago, president of Thatgamecompany, and more from: Eóin Burke, Dennis Chow, Tim Denee, Nicholas Felton, Folkert Gorter, Sean Haas, Thomas Haywood, Ian Higginbotham, Zach Kugler, Daniel Purvis, and Justin Russo.
Edited by Chris Dahlen, Ryan Kuo and Jamin Brophy-Warren.
Designed by David Boni.
“[Kill Screen’s] reviews…are so smart and polished that they might help convince doubters that games are worth taking seriously.”–Time Magazine
“The McSweeney’s of interactive media.”–The New Yorker
“Kill Screen’s prose aims to answer larger questions like ‘What does it mean to play games?’ Heady stuff to be sure, but it looks like Kill Screen has collected the heads to deliver it.” –Wired “Ambitious…impressive line-up of talent…Promises a fresh approach to journalism.”–Gamasutra
“Kill Screen is a novel and elegant twist on modern publishing.”–PSFK
“We enter this world a wondrous bundle, 100 billion neurons strong and bearing more synapses— those flashpoints of memory and sensation—than the adults we will become. As we grow older, get responsible, go to the supermarket, learn to drive, get a job, pay taxes, get married, and maybe even have kids of our own, we kill off these synapses. By this measure, when we are born we are more conscious of our world than we will ever be. This is why neuroscientists who study babies call their subjects “little Buddhas.”
We’re born blindingly conscious but grasping, handling more raw data than we’ll ever deal with again. Our pre-frontal lobes aren’t yet fully formed, and they’re what sorts everything around us, focusing our senses. Maturing, then, is just a way of figuring out how to block external stimuli—but our lobes aren’t finished growing and aren’t in full use until we’re 20. When we’re very young we don’t know thought, can’t connect the dots. One way to approach the mind in its early development isn’t as a singular thing, but a series of islands. In other words the brain isn’t a mind yet, it’s just a brain. But when we are born we’re more aware and learning faster than we ever will again. Researchers, comparing the brain scans of babies to adults, have found that the only grown-up experience that even approaches this awe-inspiring awareness that we feel as infants is when we watch a really, really good movie or play certain videogames. Only then is the back of our mind lit up like a child’s. Only then are we so fully immersed in a world that isn’t really real. So, if playing a videogame is a glimpse into our own infancy, what is it like for an infant to game?
In the last 10 years we—and by “we” I mean scientists and academics—have made a fundamental shift in how we think about babies. Parents have known for a while that infants lead inner lives so mysterious that we can only guess at their complexity. But back in what psychology professor Alison Gopnik calls “the bad old days,” the assumption “that newborn babies were crying carrots, vegetables with few reflexes” was the norm. In the past 10 years, Gopnik continues, “we’ve not only discovered that children have these imaginative powers—we’ve actually begun to understand how these powers are possible. We are developing a science of the imagination.”
As psychologists, neuroscientists, philosophers, and the rest of academe were changing their approach to young kids, the kids who had grown up with videogames hit their late 20s and early 30s. Some got jobs as game designers, and some had kids of their own. Some of these designers began building games for their kids. Eric Jorgensen is one. Jorgensen, the lead developer for Microsoft Windows AdCenter, is a father of six. Almost 15 years ago, when his two oldest sons still liked climbing onto his lap while he worked, Jorgensen created a videogame for them. “It was entertaining, that was the main goal,” he says. “Really it was a keyboard banger.”
The program was called Flabbergasted! and it was a drawing platform—kind of. Some pictures moved, and some of the keys launched fireworks. Punch other keys and a swarm of bees would move across the screen, hit more, and everything would melt into psychedelia. There weren’t points, goals, or any definitive end. It was, like a lot of games for the very young, fairly difficult to describe. In its colorful randomness, Flabbergasted! predicted the shape of things to come.”