Patrick Curry’s Thoughts on Game Design


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June 25th, 2006

Game Idea #26: My Librarian’s a Witch!

This one’s for the kids…

High Concept:

You hate going to the school library… especially when your teacher leaves the class with that cranky old librarian. Everyone always whispers that she’s a witch… but you never guessed that they were right! Now it’s up to you to save your classmates and the entire school from your librarian’s evil clutches!

Platform:

Handheld

Why it needs to be made:

I’ve been wanting to design the anti-videogame videogame for some time. It’s not that My Librarian’s a Witch! teaches that videogames are bad… so much as it makes you do something besides playing the game to win.

Description:

My Librarian’s a Witch! has all the trappings of a classic adventure game. The game begins with your class taking a trip to the school library. But when you arrive the librarian reveals that she’s in fact a witch in disguise, and she casts a spell that turns the library and all your classmates to stone. For some reason the witch’s spell doesn’t work on you, so she decides to cut you a deal…

If you can answer her 20 riddles, she’ll free your classmates and leave the school for good. But if not, you will be trapped in the stone library! Of course each of her 20 riddles is about a different classic children’s book… questions about the characters, settings, authors, and plots. How will you answer these questions when all of the books in the library have been turned into solid stones?

The answer is you have to put the game down and go read a real book. Gasp! You might know the answers to some of the questions without having to go read the book… but if all goes to plan, you’ll also be exposed to some excellent new books, and be inspired to discuss the riddles in the game with your parents, siblings, and friends. Each riddle you solve un-freezes one of your classmates, who will then join you on your quest, give you hints, and help out however he/she can!

Why it will be fun:

Escapism is just plain fun. There’s not much I enjoyed more as a kid than getting wrapped up in an epic adventure story. Games can deliver similar experiences, but it’s a very different kind of fantasy than letting your imagination run wild between the pages of a good book. My Librarian’s a Witch! would prompt kids to read classic books, but it would then reward them in-game for doing so.

Final Thoughts:

As I mentioned, I’ve been kicking this idea around for some time. While it might sound crazy to ask kids to stop playing a game in order to win, it has been done before. Everything from Police Quest to Carmen Sandiego made players look up information in the “real world” in order to progress. I’m just taking it to the next level.


7 Responses to “Game Idea #26: My Librarian’s a Witch!”

  1. James Casey commented:
    posted June 27th, 2006 at 3:56 am

    I think nowadays “looking up stuff” is done via google. I think an issue with the idea is that people would post the answers on the web, then you would end up finding the answer there even if you were trying to research the answer properly.

    You would need some sort of mechanism to ensure that the questions could not be solved in seconds via a simple google search. Perhaps people could submit their own questions/puzzles, and the game would download a random sample. Random crazy idea - perhaps you could submit a photograph with your question, and your face would be skinned over one of the “stoned” children if your question was used.

  2. Erin commented:
    posted June 27th, 2006 at 8:57 am

    As a devotee of children’s literature and a full-on library obsessive, I love this idea. I see potential for a lot of intelligence in the writing/dialogue of the game, a la “Psychonauts.” I really hope kids wouldn’t just google the answers.

  3. Patrick commented:
    posted June 27th, 2006 at 9:16 am

    Well, if the goal is to teach kids to research topics, then having them turn to Google (or other sources) wouldn’t be the end of the world. But I could see a game that uses each book as a kind of codex… where seemingly random tidbits from each book are woven into a larger story.

    But give kids some credit… they like to feel smart, and they like to get jokes and references. If the entire fictional world is about these books and their authors, then the player that uses Google to skip ahead will be robbing himself of the full experience… and he’d probably know it.

    And if push comes to shove, you could always include digital copies of these books on the game cart itself. But that might defeat my original purpose…

  4. Patrick Moran commented:
    posted June 28th, 2006 at 8:54 pm

    I love the idea. I do have a few questions.

    What is the pull to play a game that can only be used in a certain real world context? Do I find myself in a place to play the game on a regular basis? Do I want to go out of my way to put myself in that situation? What if the book I need is not available?

    The concept is great and I would love to play it. Please solve the potential problems with using real world interactions to solve in-game problems so I may steal your solutions.

    I loved Carmen Sandiego as a kid but I always found myself cheating to get past the puzzles if the solution wasn’t immediately available to me. At the time I didn’t have Google or a library for research and I didn’t want to trek down to the local library to find the solution. Has this changed with the proliferation of the internet?

  5. Patrick commented:
    posted June 29th, 2006 at 12:54 am

    Good questions, Patrick. I don’t have all the answers, but remember that you’re an adult, and this game isn’t designed for you. My theory is that kids have much more time on their hands than we do, so asking them to “go offline” to do something isn’t nearly as painful as asking you or me to stop playing to keep playing.

    I remember studying my various comic books for hours and hours and hours as a kid. I’d pour over every little detail, re-read the letters to the editor, and do everything in my power to milk a few extra nuggets of information out of them. Maybe things have changed… but I remember one of my cousins spending a ton of time at a family get-together reading the “Pokedex” in one of his Pokemon games. It was just an in-game encyclopedia… there was no gameplay to it at all. But since reading it enriched his in-game experience, he was more than happy to do it.

    That gives me hope that if done *right*, you could trick kids into reading. But you’d have to make the in-game rewards strong enough juice that they’d be compelled to come back to the game for their next assignment… I mean *quest*.

  6. Paul Mendoza commented:
    posted June 30th, 2006 at 12:54 am

    I’d agree with looking up on Google but I think it’s a cool idea. I think if I found out a game was going to require me to not only pay for it but also go to a library to look stuff up, I wouldn’t be too happy but I sure wouldn’t want to read a book on the small screen of a handheld device either.

  7. Patrick Moran commented:
    posted July 2nd, 2006 at 10:32 pm

    Thanks for the reply. I really do like the idea. I would love to see it made one day. Keep up the good work!


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