Author Archives: zanderwarren

Real and Virtual Labyrinths: What Games Do and Don’t Teach

There was a dream I once had, in which my brother and I were trying to escape from a dungeon. We were in a small room, the only exit being in the floor at one end. It led to an underwater labyrinth which was supposed to be vast and dark and dangerous. However the room itself was large and homey, with dusty furniture, a TV and a Super Nintendo. We found that the cartridge in the SNES allowed us to play a replica of the labyrinth. You could control a character to swim and explore, and if he ran out of breath or was attacked by snakes, it was no biggie. You could restart. Try again.

No doubt my subconscious was feeding off repressed Water Temple trauma.

We knew that our only chance was to learn the labyrinth by playing the game. When we knew it by heart, maybe we could brave it for real and swim to freedom. But there was always a lurking worry that the game might not be portraying the real world maze accurately. Though given our lack of food, and the darkness of the maze, we really didn’t have much choice but to trust the game.
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Of Spinach and Shrooms

The secret to Popeye’s strength is not a well-kept one. Everyone knows that he’s “strong to the finish ‘cos he eats his spinach”. But the reason for his affection for this leafy green is more obscured. One popular myth claims he’s in it for the iron.

The myth goes like this: a 19th century German chemist misplaced a decimal point on a nutritional table, prompting the iron content of spinach to be grossly over-rated. This putative ferric potency of Spinach then convinced cartoonist E. C. Segar to make it the go-to food for his character Popeye.

This story has been promoted by many well-respected journalist and scientists as an example of the influence small mistakes can have, and the importance of checking your facts. Ironically, the story itself is spurious. It has proliferated because none of it’s promoters bothered to fact-check their allegory about fact-checking. James Sutton has the full story here.

Vitamin A, Exhibit A!

Vitamin A, Exhibit A!

But there’s another popular working man with a vegetable super food. It’s a-Mario, and he always eats his mushrooms. While not as widely cited as the Spinach story, Mario’s penchant for fungi does come with its own popular myth. Like Carroll’s Alice, people seem to think that Mario is on drugs. Continue reading

Bad Games People Still Play: I-Spy

I spy with my little eye, something that is boring. Give up? It’s I-Spy, the crap game that kids play when they’re bored and want to annoy their parents. Why do people play I-Spy? And is there some kernel of fun within it that can be salvaged?

Well, there is something fun about having a secret. I-Spy gives the spy a little secret to keep for a few seconds. More importantly, the other player must guess and conjecture as to what’s been spied. Meaning that for the game to be played, someone must act interested in your ephemeral secret. Fun for the person with the secret, but boring for the guesser, who usually only wants find the object so it will be their turn.

The I-Spy books, however, were a marked improvement over the repetitive Where's Waldo series.

The I-Spy books, however, were a marked improvement over the repetitive Where’s Waldo series.

Now games like this, where players take turns being the one who has fun, are obviously not ideal. But it is common symptom of guessing games. 20 Questions sometimes has this problem too; people seem to prefer having a secret to trying to uncover one. But is there some way we can tweak I-Spy so that both players can have fun simultaneously? Continue reading

Apokelypse Now

Imagine a nuclear bomb went off in the Pokemon universe. Maybe a meltdown in Cerulean City’s power plant. The once verdant plains become a barren waste. Pokemon have survived, but have turned rabid and savage, some mutated into hideous facsimiles of their formerly cutesy selves. Civilization is in ruin. Team rocket roams the wastes Mad Max style, terrorizing any survivors.

"Houndour, I choose you!"

“Houndour, I choose you!”

In an isolated village, 3 youths come of age. They have heard of the disaster, and felt it in their now polluted fields and sea. There are no fish, and nothing grows anymore. The elders of the village are sick and feeble, soon to die. So the youths depart for the wastes, with six Pokeballs on their belts, and a dream in their hearts. A dream… to catch them all. Continue reading

Variations on a Score of Questions

20 questions is a classic time-killer. It is perhaps the ultimate guessing game, being that absolutely anything can be chosen to be guessed. Playing presents all the fun of having a secret or exposing one, and the excitement of narrowing a search down from the all-encompassing to the minutely specific.

Part of the enjoyment is in just how specific, how narrow a net can be cast with only 20 yes-or-no questions. Math junkies will know that by compounding the effect of 20 questions (assuming you are able to split the possible results exactly in half with each query), one can reach 2^19 conclusions. That’s about half a million rounds of play – and this is without even taking into account that you can change your repertoire of questions!

Which incidentally, isn't far off from the total number of described species of beetles. The next logical step would be for someone to write a program which can guess any beetle in 20 questions or less. Taxonomists, get on it!

Which incidentally, isn’t far off from the total number of described species of beetle. The next logical step would be for someone to write a program which can guess any beetle in 20 questions or less. Taxonomists, get on it!

But despite the prowess of this defining process, 20 questions does get old. Part of the problem is that players start to develop a ‘routine’, a set order of questions to ask at each games outset. Experienced interrogators may use a palette of 50 or so questions to play somewhere in the first 10 moves.

This is an effective method, but it makes the game much less exciting. Instead of earnest thought and search, players now follow a formula for half the game or more. Only the final few questions will be original ones. Much of the game becomes stale and repetitive. So how can be make the enjoyment of 20 Questions bigger than a bread box again? Continue reading

Gathering Grue: 3 Treatments for ‘The Giver’ the Game

A film version of Lois Lowry’s award-winning 1994 novel The Giver was green-lit a while ago. The release date and most of the cast is yet unknown, but of one thing I am sure. Where there’s fire there’s smoke, and where there are teen fantasy productions there are video game tie-ins.

Some of which are better than others...

Some of which are better than others…

For the fun of wild speculation, I offer three possible treatments of the book and its utopian/dystopian universe. And if you’ve never read the book and still intend to, I must warn ye; here be spoilers. Continue reading

Bad Games People Still Play: One Word Stories

It’s the Late-Nineties. Autumn. The whole family is home, dinner having just ended. There’s a big storm tonight. Rain pounds on the roof, wind whips tree branches against the windows. The power goes out.


You have no cell phones. No lap-tops. No Nintendo DS, no PSP. It’s black for a long time. Your eyes have finally adjusted when a candle is lit. It’s set on the dining room table, light scarcely reaching the kitchen. The room is thick with unfamiliar shadows, and the rain keeps on. The family gathers back around the table, around the communal light. It’s too dark to read or draw, so what do you do? Sit and play ‘One Word Stories”.


This is a go-to game for many people and families. And it can be fun, for sure. It’s not a bad game outright, but I still put it in my ‘Bad Games People Still Play’ series, because it could be a lot more fun. Continue reading