Joachim Breitner

Teaching Linux with Games

Published 2006-11-10 in sections English, Digital World, Ghana.

I’m still at the school in Ghana, and although I have quit, there are another five weeks to make use of. Linux is installed on quite a few machines, but it is not used very often, partly because the studentds don’t know about it. I was instructed to boot to Windows by default, so they don’t “stumble” over it either. To raise a more interest, I announced a Linux Gaming Tournament, and put up some posters. The participating students will compete in Frozen Bubble, the game formally known as Tuxracer and Tetrinet.

As it turned out I got the permission to do so based on a misunderstanding: The principal thought I would create a game that itself would teach students to use Linux (maybe some kind of rally with hidden hints in various applications and folders, and whoever finds them wins). My original plan would not have been allowed, as there is a officially strict school policy against computer games, and because it is a boarding school, it is also a life policy for the students for four years.

Because the tournament was already announced and students signed up for it, I will still be able to hold it, as an explicit exception to the rule. But what the administration would like to see, also to keep the interest in Linux up even after I will have removed the games again, is a longer lasting competition in a game with a more educational purpose. An old Mac game was named where the player has to run a business and in the process learns about spreadsheets.

So, dear lazyweb, do you know of a game that

  • runs on Linux. (i.e. no web based game)
  • takes a while to complete. (i.e. several hours during the course of one or two weeks)
  • has an educational purpose. (e.g. a economical simulation, maybe a simulation of evolution)
  • maybe even is realtime in the sense that certain events happen after a certain amount of real world day, not just gaming hours.
  • maybe even interacts with other people playing the game, over the network.

I know that the last two wishes would point to a web based game, but that defies the purpose to lure the people to start Linux.

Comments

FreeCiv?
#1 directhex (Homepage) am 2006-11-10
I don’t think it fits in what the administration wants, because you don’t learn any hard real life skills with Free Civ. (Note that this is not my opinion, I think games are valuable even if not tied to some curriculum)

But thanks for the suggestion.
#2 Joachim Breitner (Homepage) am 2006-11-10
I can't think of any games of worth for *any* platform which involve "hard real life skills"

Really, you're firmly in management/simulation territory. Under Linux, your choices are strict - spreadsheet games are already a niche, let alone for a niche platform.

Perhaps a football management game like Bygfoot?
#3 directhex (Homepage) am 2006-11-10
Hmm, maybe. I’ll keep it in mind, thanks.
#4 Joachim Breitner (Homepage) am 2006-11-10
Hi,

not really a game in the strict sense: http://www.pythonchallenge.com/

HTH,
Stefan.
#5 Stefan am 2006-11-10
Thanks, but that is too difficult to get the average student start to use Linux.
#6 Joachim Breitner (Homepage) am 2006-11-10
The only thing that comes in my mind is Corewars, you create programs in a reduced pseudo asm language, run them in a emulator and challenge others in a tournament, a program who executes a wrong instruction lose. Last time i've checked there was a package in Debian...
#7 Andrea am 2006-11-10
That was one of my first thoughts as well, but, like pythochallenge, it is too difficult.

I cound imagine a similar game where the students program graphically or train “animals”, who then have to prove themselfes in the battle for survival. With some nice graphics, a server to keep track of everything, and some educational value as it teaches evolution and maybe the genetic algorithm?
#8 Joachim Breitner (Homepage) am 2006-11-10
You might want to try my game "Infon Battle Arena". Its a programming game using the language lua.

Creatures fight for food and against other creatures. The game runs in realtime on a server. Players and Viewers connect to this server.

Lua has a very simple syntax, so it should be easier than the pythonchallenge or cw-asm.

If that's not simple enough, you can provide a basic botcode and offer a very simple gui that allows players to change some variables or small functions that change behaviour.

Website: http://infon.dividuum.de/

Feel free to contact me. Have fun!
#9 Florian Wesch am 2006-11-10
Yes, I remember that. I played it GPN4 in Karlsruhe. My bot had the strategy to always just run away, for that it was doing pretty well.

But I don't think that anything involving "real" programming is suitable to get the average grade 9-12 student interested.

But I'll consider it for my computer club, that might be interesting!
#10 Joachim Breitner (Homepage) am 2006-11-11
I stand corrected: GPN5. I'm not sure if they will pick it up fast enough, even in the computer club. Sometimes I think I just expect too much from them, after all, none of the students have computers on their own, so I can't expect the same interest and aptness I would find in German schools.
#11 Joachim Breitner (Homepage) am 2006-11-11
What about N.E.R.O.? You train soldiers with a neural network or seomthing, strating from the very basics (ie, approach enemy, then attack) to build an army that does well on a real battlefield.

http://www.linux.com/article.pl?sid=06/10/03/2139203
#12 bkudria (Homepage) am 2006-11-10
Well, I tried N.E.R.O. myself a few weeks ago (but lots interest after the tutorial). It comes close to what could be used here, but I think it is unsuitable because of the theme – warfare is something you rarely want at your school.

If we had N.E.R.O. with ants or something, that might be a very good canditate. Oh, and Free Software would be nice, too (yes yes, I’m very picky).
#13 Joachim Breitner (Homepage) am 2006-11-10
"Guido van Robot Next Generation", together with the lessons at http://gvr.sourceforge.net/lessons/ , teaches basic programming skills; I think it would make a good fit here.

In addition to the previously mentioned corewars, several other "program a robot that competes with other robots" games exist in Debian, with various levels of difficulty and complexity.

You could also set up a simple MUD server, and let people collaboratively program a world. (Many such servers support programming through the same interface as playing.)

A few other random, less likely possibilities:

"Adonthell: Waste's Edge" takes a while to complete the first time, and requires both reasoning skills and a bit of verbal diplomacy.

"Beneath a Steel Sky" and "Flight of the Amazon Queen", like most adventure games, take a while to complete and require some reasoning skills to solve puzzles.

"Fish Fillets - Next Generation" has lots of puzzle solving.

gPlanarity teaches quite a bit about spatial reasoning; play it for a while, and you start to see the polygon in 3D and figure out how to "unfold" it.
#14 Anonymous am 2006-11-10
Have a look at enigma.
While not strictly "educational", it still is politically correct (no monsters killed during the making of the game) and has a strong focus on puzzles (and mouse skills, to a certain extend). It's very addictive, actually.

You could ask people to make levels - at a certain point they'll want to use Lua scripting to make the levels more random etc. The version in experimental, soon-to-be-1.0, has a newer level format, XML based. You might want to use that version.
#15 Erich Schubert (Homepage) am 2006-11-11
This turns into a collection of very nice games. But unfortunately, this school would most likely not acknoledge Enigma as more than a time waster (which is what the administration thinks computer games are).
#16 Joachim Breitner (Homepage) am 2006-11-12
yeah! frozen bubble!!! ;)
Es grüßen die Info-Vorlesungen...
#17 keke am 2006-11-16

Have something to say? You can post a comment by sending an e-Mail to me at <mail@joachim-breitner.de>, and I will include it here.