Minecraft and boobs.

Minecraft is a multiplayer sandbox video game based in a virtual world, which is modelled on the real world. Players are able to build and craft everyday items using blocks. The cubic geometry of Minecraft lends itself to the teaching of various academic subjects, and is immensely popular in the gaming world.

Minecraft also has a functioning ecology, with chemistry and physics aspects interwoven within the game that can be used to develop the scientific literacy of players. Not only does it function in many core aspects of the environment (though cubey), it represents an excellent case study in human geography via gender divides in a community.

One of the most common social representations of video games is the imbalance in the gender divide. Most people assume that a significant proportion of players are male. In 2012, 47% of the gaming community were actually female. The applications of minecraft in teaching and learning environments has been argued to have been a considerable boost to this figure in years to come.

Obviously the balance of genders in video games is a result of a plethora of positive advances in the gaming industry. However, getting all genders to understand the real-life application of games at a young age has proved to contribute to greater cognitive development at an early age, more respect for women in the gaming industry, a reduction in prejudices against female gamers, and an increase in the number of women taking further studies in a game-based course.

To understand why the gender divide came about in the first place one must understand one of the biggest factors associated with the gaming industry: the fact that one of the biggest drivers of the gender disparity is the dearth of women involved in making games. Once a designer has reached an age where they are able to develop or design games, quite often strong opinions on the industry have already been formed, and subsequently cannot be changed easily.

Unfortunately, this usually leads to games which only address a male perspectives and expectations. Often this is to the detriment of the female perspective and expectations, for example rarely having a strong female lead. Even less likely to have a female lead that is not basically naked.

Boobs. So many boobs.

Minecraft, is one of the building blocks for the balancing of equal opportunities for the next generation (see what I did there?). In situations where its used in learning environments, no previous assumptions or prejudices are discussed, and this creates a positive atmosphere to all kids, whether they have or haven’t been exposed to game-learning before.

Game analysts and educational staff for the first time have been able to predict figures of the likelihood that a person will experience or develop their gaming knowledge at a later date, after they have been introduced to learning through minecraft. This is only based on a handful of individual cases in the US at the moment, but certainly has the potential to expand in the teaching curriculum over the next few years.

Their preliminary results show these main points;

– The kids exposed to minecraft showed a reduction in gender stereotypes when exposed to gender specific testing.

– The kids exposed to minecraft were able to problem solve at a higher level to those who had not.

– The kids who were exposed to minecraft we statistically significantly more likely to continue gaming and problem solving in later life (thus more likely to bring more female game developers on to the scene).

Although there are many other learning-based games specifically targeted at children, minecraft is set apart from the pack as it is used by a range of age groups with no modifications dependent on age. As a result when kids develop a bond with a game that they enjoy as they are growing up, minecraft offers the ability for someone to keep playing without feeling that they have outgrown it.

Despite it’s cubey nature, minecraft has some pretty cool geographical crossovers, and also social prediction algorithms that further establish it as a medium for human expression in a virtual environment, rather than simply a game to pass the time. It is regarded as being engaging to all ages, genders, and across many levels of gaming expertise. More importantly, it can be all of these things at once. 

(This was actually a social experiment to see whether the use of ‘boobs’ in the title would generate more post views. We shall get back to this subject, and hopefully you’ll have more human geographical knowledge as a result).

What other aspects of minecraft do you think apply to geography, or vice versa? Do you think there are other social phenomena that occur in the minecraft world?


Civilization 5 – Perfect World 3 Walk Through

In a previous post I talked about the usefulness of geographical knowledge for strategies in some of the Civilization 5 mods. This included ‘Extended World Map’ and ‘Reforestation’, but mainly focused on ‘Perfect World’.

Perfect World is a mod based on map elevation data to create landforms, and a simplified model of geostrophic and monsoon wind patterns to generate climate. This post will be in a walk through style, and will show you the decisions that I made in the early stages of the game in order to apply geographical knowledge to my advantage.

Game set-up was set to random. (Unless you are like me, who selects random, then restarts several times to get a leader I actually want to play as). 

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Firstly, plonk your first city down. Next, take a look at the resources and terrain around you to get a better idea of what sort of climate you’re in. For this scenario I looked to the top red circle and saw incense, desert and an oasis. Already this implies a tropical climate. My initial guess is something akin to Africa. Left shows shallow seas which have higher chances of shallower resources such as crabs and pearls. 

Below, a citrus plantation leading down towards forest. This implies the further south is going to be generally wetter and more fertile, providing more plantation type resources. Finally the circle to the right indicates dunes with flat desert above. As the size of the desert above is fairly large already, I concluded that the dune was a singular boarding formation (as it is large and angled toward the sea, so formed by wind deposits) rather than a continuing feature East.

Right, North and South seem like good bets for exploration to find resources in the fastest way. South first, as the biosphere is more sustainable, and therefore more likely to hold a higher amount of resources in a smaller space.

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As predicted, the forest is pretty bulked up with resources. The red circles show where mountains occur, the circle to the left illustrates how mining resources tend to now tailor mountainous features, rather than at random which tended to happen in the original game. This area is very close to my first city however, and probably doesn’t warrant building another as my boarders will expand.

The second circle indicates another mountain feature. The forest only occurs on one part of the mountain alone, meaning that precipitation (brought upwards off of the water by orographic lifting) is only occurring on one side, and is blocked off from the other by the height of the elevation. As the side that is bare is the South West, it suggests that further south the fertile forest will give way to more savannah and wheat type resources, as the rains aren’t able to make it that far down due to the natural barrier. Time to look North.

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As predicted, there are some tasty shallow sea resources in the two smaller circles to the left.The large circle to the right is not only indicating a mountain region, but one that is obviously a different colour. This tells me that the geology of the area is different to the mountain we saw down South. The formations are much larger, darker, and ridged so they are most likely metamorphic and/or igneous rocks. This will cause a greater rain shadow South (rain that only falls on one side of the mountain). 

Mountains this large and ridged tend to span formations rather than singular features, so I’m betting that they continue further East. They could span further North, but I decided that that wasn’t as likely seen as below there is flat desert most likely caused by adiabatic compression (lost moisture and heated, creating arid conditions) on the leeward side of the mountains. Therefore, the most likely formation must be a barrier spanning the length of the desert bowl, clearly indicated by the build up of dunes at the base of the mountain.

Now I can see that the desert has been created via water deprivation, rather than wind patterns. Now I know that although the desert will be just as big, it’ll be flatter and more of plain, so won’t hold any mining or durable plantation type resources such as incense. 

Based on the information above, I’m going to scout North rather than East, as the rain shadow South means that North should be where the warm moist air, probably brought off of the sea to the left by prevailing winds will be trapped. 

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Boom. Finally, we have found the highest concentration of resources, shown in the larger circle. In this area there is a resource in every single land plot, spanning 6 in length and with others noticeably near by. Perfect for settling near and getting a head start on the resource race.

I’ve left the walk through here, because as useful as this kind of tactical knowledge is, it really only gives you a considerable edge in the first age when you need to optimise where your cities should be. Also, this becomes far easier once you have scouted out all, or at least most, of the map. In that case it becomes as simple as ‘I have eyes and I see gems. I am going to go to those shiny, shiny gems’. 

There are other tactical applications to using the geography of the map however. For example how to pick the best strategically placed and more defensible city or unit locations, or how to identify the places with the highest chance of having a Barbarian encampment. In the next post I’ll go into those a bit more. Maybe it’s time for killing some things, geography style. 


Virtual Queenscliff (Virtual Reality Environments)

An innovative new product in the blurred area of virtual geography and games is currently in the works. This project is entitled Virtual Queenscliff, and is being developed by the school of mathematical and spatial science at RMIT University.

Queenscliff is a coastal town located in the urban outskirts of Sydney, Australia. This is the site for an innovative geospatial virtual environment, or geoVE. Previous examples of geoVE’s generally focus on hypermedia/multimedia approaches, which have a tendency to lack meaningful interactions and realism, especially when compared to games.

Hypermedia and multimedia approaches generally rely on programmes such as GeoVRML, Flash, Director3D etc.,Computer Aided Design (CAD) or Geographic Information System (GIS) applications. These are difficult to use and require some sort of background knowledge. Pipe dreams to those normal folk who don’t have a degree in geography.

Step in, Virtual Queenscliff.

No more ‘just enough’ data or flat mapping for you, no sir. Virtual Queenscliff is a geoVE project specifically designed to be a crossover point between virtual geography, spatial data storage and game-based multimedia. Spawned by a new age of 3D geographical data, it takes the ideal aspects of mapping urban areas and applies classic game-based aspects such as unlocking achievements and badges.

Initially the project sought to provide new ways of mapping and representing data over the web. Since it’s start it has developed further by providing a new way of looking at reality, allowing analysis of user-specific perception of place and space, and by utilising a platform which does not limit the availability of geographical knowledge in a way that journal articles or paper maps do.

Essentially, it’s way more interesting than that map your GCSE geography teach told you to colour in.

So on to the game engine side of the design we go. It was decided that Epic’s Unreal Editor 2 was the most appropriate 3D game engine in satisfying the research requirements.

Obviously this took into account a number of alternatives, such as Criterion’s RenderWare, id Software’s Quake III, 3D GameStudio, and String Collaborative Virtual Environment (CVE) (an altered version of GarageGames’ Torque Game Engine which was used for the initial prototypes before further analysis forced a switch to Editor 2).

By using a game engine the geoVE of Queenscliff encourages non-expert usage from the general public, and aims to generate more informed and visual learning about the town. Eventually, the virtual reality, or VR, of the area will be available for individuals to add their own data about an area within the town. This will create one of the few functioning live data storage systems using a game engine.

In a nutshell using a game engine and basic game traits in a geoVE makes data simple to interpret, easy to use, and most importantly engaging to the public. As soon as the real thing is available I’m sure I’ll post a review, where more importantly you guys will be able to check it out too.

For now, have some pretty pictures and imagine what they will be like virtually, so you can imagine what it would be like in real life. Ah, geoVE’s, you crazy.





Civilization 5 – Mods and Virtual Geography

Civilization, Sid Meyer’s first born son birthed on a hill with rainbow and gods present, has become one of the most renowned and highest grossing turn based strategy games of the past decade. Civilization 5 especially has elapsed all of its predecessors in terms of popularity, expansions, mods and profits.

Naturally, there are a plethora of mods available for the game. In fact, more than 1500 on Steam alone. These range in usefulness and practicality. For example, after a couple of hours the novelty of being able to play as races of Middle Earth, Avatar, or Westeros wears pretty thin. You are after all, running around and doing the same old clicky thing.

However, what makes some of the Civ 5 mods interesting, is their ability to change a game by modifying the game mechanics to suit both the map development, layout, and the geographical area. Using the same example of the popular books/TV mods, the detailing in the respective maps not only replicate their originals, but are geographically tweaked to represent physical geography more so than the original set of  Civ 5 maps.

By this I mean, where you see different biomes or geographical features on the map, they are designed to reflect the natural formation based on the earth environment. Marshlands must be adjacent to bodies of water, grasslands transition to shrubbery and eventually forest etc. This is simple environmental formation, which is lending to the development of thinking geographically when playing a tactical strategy game.

Obviously, the original untampered Civ 5 represents geography exceptionally well. The subsequent expansions, such as Gods and Kings, or Brave New World certainly build on this very effectively. But this is where the finer detailed mods come in – those including ‘Perfect World’, ‘Reforestation’, and the ‘Enahanced World Map’ saga.

A great example of this can be seen when playing in the ‘Perfect World’ mod. It uses map elevation to create landforms, then uses a simplified model of geostrophic and monsoon wind patterns to generate climate. In simple terms the map represents real meteorological patterns, real geographical formations, and tailors the chance of resources to occur more often in areas where that resource is found in the natural world.

So, geographical knowledge can be applied to much greater affect than simply ‘there is a large body of water here, therefore I can infer there will be some sort of water-type resource such as pearls or fish in that area’.

Instead, using this mod, combined with a working knowledge of geography one can infer much greater detail, and consequently utilise the map in a much more tactical way. Civ 5 takes this to the level that few other games can dream of.

For example, in desert biomes, knowing the algorithms behind dune formation, and being able to recognise the difference between dune type allows the player to realise that ‘this type of dune is formed as a result of high winds and the availability of particles, so it wont boarder a coast any time soon. I should probably utilise my units by only sending scouts into that area, and leaving settlers for more sustainable biomes’.

Or one may recognise ‘the path of this river is meandering, meaning that it’s in middle to lower stages of its course. There wont be mountains nearby, and the availability of farming luxuries, such as cotton and dyes, are statistically higher’. The new map takes into account the correct probability of where a resource should be, rather than randomly attributing them throughout the map.

In the next few posts Ill go into more detail regarding how I personally have applied geographical knowledge during games of Civ 5, and how that has worked out for me. This will include discussing the merits of other mods also, and the general differences between them and the original game.

Eventually Ill look at some other virtual geography in other games, and why its becoming more available in game design.

Looks like its time to put my shades back on and play some Civ.