Recently I played an extremely engaging flash zombie game: http://www.kongregate.com/games/ConArtists/the-last-stand-union-city

When I began to consider what motivated me to spend 5 hours on this game at the detriment of a night on the town, it quickly became apparent to me that the element of items in the game is what kept me engaged. The game offers exploration of every single nook and cranny, trash can, box, body, door, safe, room, etc. This exploration process was 1. identify searchable area (sometimes small vents or new forms) 2. click 3. see a list of items 4. take what you will. A weight carry limit imposed on the player required some amount of choice in what items to carry, but was not overly restrictive. With each exploration items can be taken or left.

Items in this game can be broken down into melee weapons, automatic weapons, clothing, health items and trash. Different attributes of melee and automatic weapons are displayed clearly to the player upon encountering one. Clothing, however, may afford some protection but does not make that clear to the player. Health items restore some amount of health. Trash is, unsurprisingly, useless, and includes such novelties as soap, ink pen, detergent and hairball. Goal items also appeared at times.

My primary motivation for continuing to play was, unsurprisingly, to find the best gun, the most impressive baseball bat or shovel. The statistics being present made it always known if I had found a more impressive weapon. Perhaps understated but also important is that the statistics of the weapon also correlated with its “awesome” factor. Awesome factor is this intangible collection of weapon name, look, movement, and sound. Sometimes a game may make the small soundless pocket knife may be more powerful statistically than the sweet wooshing ninja sword. In this game, however, battle axe reigned supreme, and was the clear winner over the blunt, albeit satisfying, shovel.

The ambiguity of the clothing element was surprisingly engaging as well. I was unsure if a biosuit I found in a safe afforded more advantages than the police gear. I found myself altering suit to see if either afforded any more advantages than a cool factor of looking cool. This was a welcome relief from the stats analysis I generally do in these games. Health foods also relieved some of this mental stress by having one clear variable: health increase. The absurdity of a +1 health from items like orange or soda can added to the reality of the game. Trash, an element that is rarely present in games like this, added an additional level of search and an additional excitement in discovering a great item. To look through pen, paper ball, and then find rocket launcher, is a markedly more “realistic” and engaging experience.

Overall, I found looking for items in this game similar to coming downstairs for Christmas and opening presents. I’m curious how items might be a useful device for the educational game we develop.

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