[Game Review] Let’s Play: Ancient Greek Punishment: Teaches Typing
Let’s Play: Ancient Greek Punishment: Teaches Typing, which in my opinion uses one too many colons, is a strange mix between a touch typing practice game and a greek mythology learning game. Ancient Greek Punishment: Teaches Typing was created by Pippin Barr, a game maker and Assistant Professor in the Department of Design and Computational Arts at Concordia University. The game was recommended by Professor Harpstead and I smiled too much while I first* played it to not critique it!
The game is intended to “teach typing” while telling the stories of four mythological punishments, a mathematical paradox, and Albert Camus.
The game can be found through this link: https://pippinbarr.github.io/lets-play-ancient-greek-punishment-teaches-typing/ and can be played on any web browser.
*edited in after writing the critique
The game, as intended, is meant to be a game that teaches touch typing, which is a style of speed typing where the typist does not look at their fingers. This is a classic genre of typing game, some of the popular ones including monkeytype and typeracer. The game affords a platform where the players can practice typing words and sentences (depending on difficulty) quickly.
While the intended learning objective is touch typing, the thematic narrative embedded into the game is Greek mythology, specifically the punishments of Sisyphus, Tantalus, Prometheus, and the Danaids (+ Zeno’s Paradox and Albert Camus). While the game itself does not “teach” the players about these stories, it displays (both through the art and the words the player types) the specific punishments of each of the mythological beings, a depiction of Zeno’s Paradox, and, what I presume to be, a joke about Albert Camus’ theory on Absurdism.
While the prerequisite to begin to learn how to touch type would be the ability to type at all, the prerequisite to learn about the narratives behind each level is a bit more complicated. Due to the simple nature of the typing game, each level merely depicts the punishments that the beings went through. However, without prior knowledge about Greek mythology, the player would not be able to garner any new information from the game. In my own experience, I already knew the punishments of Sisyphus and Prometheus, as well as the concept behind Zeno’s Paradox (thanks to Amélie the Musical) which helped me contextualize the information behind Tantalus and the Danaids.
There is also philosophical thinking that is hidden behind this rather crudely created game. The game hones into the philosophy of Absurdism, which, as stated by Wikipedia, is the “conflict between the human tendency to seek inherent value and meaning in life, and the human inability to find any in a purposeless, meaningless or chaotic and irrational universe.” This is highlighted by the stories of the futile effort of the mythological beings in Tartarus, the notion of infinite space in Zeno’s Paradox, and the teachings of Albert Camus. Moreover, once a player enters a game they are unable to go back and are stuck typing away and away until they leave the page.
When a player first enters the game, they are shown a list of names with the first letter bracketed. Once a player types the bracketed letter, they are given the option to choose between Beginner, Intermediate, and Advanced (or in Camus’ case, Nightmare). From there, the player is able to enter the actual gameplay.
The game elements that are presented in the game are rather simple. The core game mechanic revolves around the player type the letters that are highlighted in the game. They are shown progress (or non-progress?) through the visual depictions of each narrative’s punishment. The game also displays a player’s current WPM (not a cumulative one) which is displayed right beneath the words the player needs to type.
For Sisyphus, it displays Sisyphus rolling a boulder up a hill (again and again). For Tantalus, it displays typesets, one in CAPS and one in lowercase. The uppercase moves the apple away from Tantalus as he reaches for it and the lowercase removes the water from Tantalus as he reaches to drink it. For Prometheus, typing keeps a bird (an eagle) away from Prometheus. However, once the player stops typing for a couple of seconds, the bird eats away at Prometheus’ liver. The liver grows back overnight and the cycle continues. For Danaids, the Danaid has to pitch watch from a faucet to a bath. Once the Danaid pours water into the bath, the bath drains all the water out. For Zeno, every time the player types, they get closer to the finish line. However, the game stops the player at each half-way mark until they get there (which is never). Lastly, for Camus, the player has to type, from what I researched, the fourth chapter of Albert Camus’ book, The Myth of Sisyphus, with no mistakes (every mistake is a restart). The Camus level can only be unlocked when the player has tried all three of Sisyphus’ levels. This is the only sense of completion a player can achieve from this game.
After playing the game, I strongly believe that typing is not the intended learning objective. However, some of the learning principles that tie into the touch typing aspect of this game include scaffolding, immediate feedback timing, variability, and interest.
In terms of scaffolding, the player is given the option to choose different levels where they can begin the game. While the scaffolding aspect is not prescribed (as the player is given all three options at once), the player is able to start with a simple level, where they are given a couple of words to repeat, move on to an intermediate level, where they are given a simple sentence structure that slightly varies, an advanced level, where they are given a long (more complex) quote from another source, and a ‘nightmare’ level, where the player is unable to make any mistakes.
Immediate feedback is given to the players when they get a letter wrong. In the case of Sisyphus, the depicted character rolls back down the hill, the WPM counter depicts 0, and a beeping audio byte is presented. The most important distinction that allows the WPM counter to be a source of immediate feedback is that, unlike a regular WPM counter that counts cumulative words per minute, this counter only counts the immediate WPM. This means that the player can only see their WPM at the immediate moment, which provides a drastic response whenever the player stops typing or starts typing slower.
Variability is simply given by the different beings that the player has to play. Each name presents different words, sentences, and paragraphs (depending on level), which allows for players to experience typing different sets of characters. Without variability, a player may only learn to type certain phrases quickly, in this game the player learns how to type 16 phrases quickly!
Lastly, the game uses interest. Rather than structuring a randomized set of words to be typed quickly, this game intertwines the stories of Greek mythology into the gameplay. This helps engage players who are interested in these myths, or even the philosophy behind the myths (including the work of Camus) in rather mundane and bland gameplay.
Beyond the simple typing gameplay, however, the game implements linking and metacognition. Metacognition is most definitely a stretch, however, I could not find a better fitting principle for how I was able to learn from this game. Through the content and ‘playstyle’ of the game, I began to reflect on my own life and really think about the different mundane activities I do on a daily basis. It was probably only due to my need to write this critique that I thought about the game for so long, however, through this game I was able to pick at certain habits and repetitive activities that have no real meaning in my life. The linking between the different myths and the philosophy thought by Albert Camus also built into my existential thoughts (whoops!).
Overall, I don’t know how I feel about this game. Briefly put, I would say Ancient Greek Punishment: Teaches Typing isn’t really a great game. There is no sense of motivation as there is no goal. But what gets me is that… that’s the point. The philosophy of Absurdism teaches that there is and will always be a conflict between a person’s desire to do and a person’s sense of purposelessness.
As a touch typing game, the gameplay is not sufficient in providing the necessary variability and randomness to adequately teach a player to type faster, beyond this specific gameplay. As a game that teaches greek mythology, the game would fail to teach any person without prior knowledge about the mythological beings. However, the game may be able to motivate people to look up these names and find the context through outside sources. As a game that teaches philosophy and instills existential dread… pretty spot on. While most players probably would not spend this much time thinking about this game as I have, writing this post, I, strangely enough, learned a lot of philosophy (specifically the work of Albert Camus) through external research. I also had a lot of introspective moments as I wrote this post and began analyzing the game itself.
My personal experience with this game is that this game gave me a sense of existential dread (just for a second). The repetitive nature of the game coupled with the unending lore of the beings had me thinking about the point of being in school, taking courses, getting into grad school, or even writing this critique. But maybe that’s just my thoughts at midnight on a Tuesday.
I guess in the end… no, this is a bad educational game? This game is weird. I love it.