Games in Education #1: Starfleet Commander

This week’s coursework is focusing on the use of games for education. I was not surprised to find Civilization described in great detail. I’ve spent hours playing that crazy game in a couple of its different versions. I was a little surprised to find World of Warcraft in a quantitative study of scientific thinking, but that makes sense, too. I haven’t played WoW, but I did spend weeks, months, years even playing things like Ultima I-VII and their spinoffs, the first Elder Scrolls, and the (older … up through World of Xeen) Might and Magic series. There was a significant amount of logical processing, problem-solving, resource allocation, cause-effect analysis, and other skills in those games.

I decided to explore a game I’m not familiar with, so I asked my online pals for recommendations. One of my friends recommended Star Wars: The Old Republic, and I tried to check that out. It would be right up my science fiction writer’s alley, but unfortunately, it’s taking the far side of eternity to install on my old laptop. (After 7 hours, I gave up and deleted the thing). So, I went with another option. Starfleet Commander on Facebook.

(c) 2010 Balt-Arts // Retrieved from Flickr Creative Commons on this date and used unchanged
(c) 2010 Balt-Arts // Retrieved from Flickr Creative Commons on this date and used unchanged

When my friend recommended Starfleet Commander, I thought it was related to Star Trek. As a Star Trek nerd, I was pretty disappointed when I found that, no, it has nothing to do with that Starfleet. Oh well.

This Starfleet starts you off on a homeworld you can name as a commander you can name. There is a very brief walkthrough on how to start building something and how to send out a resource mission. After an introductory walkthrough that felt far too short at the time, the player is cut loose to start making executive decisions. The learning curve, however, wasn’t as severe as I first thought.

Rather than walking through the game as a first-person character, the player handles everything logistically from a main screen. You need three resources (ore, crystal, and hydrogen) plus power to the buildings. Power comes from solar plants at first and — I haven’t gotten that far yet — nuclear reactors later. The hydrogen is synthesized in a special type of building, and mines can be built for the ore and crystal. Ore and crystal can also be acquired through missions to raid unprotected mines, finish quests, and haul cargo.

The educational value in this game comes from the decision-making and resource allocation. Although not terribly difficult to acquire, resources are limited. Among other things, the player has to choose which sorts of buildings to build, what technologies to research, and what missions to go on. Using resources for one purpose can limit the availability for other things. Players can also recruit friends to join them as team members or allies. There’s even a way to attack other players. I found an espionage option that allows the player to gain intelligence before attacking someone.

An additional educational use might involve setting up students in teams and having each team devise what they feel is the best strategy and the reason why they think that one is best. Each team tries the strategy for a set amount of time then compares the results to the other teams.

I’ve played similar, if more graphics-oriented, games like this including Hay Day and Farmville 2.  In each of those cases, the game progressed well until it reached a point where I could go no further without using real-world money to solve game-world problems. I have friends who would not hesitate to spend their actual money on buying eight virtual, left-handed hammers for a game, but I don’t have the budget to play the game that way. Many of these games will allow for non-monetary solutions, but the path involves waiting for a long time for something to happen, and some quests cannot be solved at all. The games get much less interesting when waiting for something to happen takes sixteen hours or more. We’ll see if this one does the same.

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