Game Critique Blog #2:
KUUKIYOMI: Consider It
Mar 2nd, 2021
CMU 05-418 Design Educational Game
The world. This is Japan.
ABOUT THIS GAME @ STEAM
Game Name: Kuukiyomi: Consider It / みんなで空気読み。
Platform: Microsoft Windows(Steam), Nintendo(Switch), PlayStation4
Instructional Goals: learn Japanese style social/communication skills.
Kuukiyomi: Consider It is a very lightweight casual game. Even among the easiest games, this one could be the easiest of them -- in fact you can even download this game on your switch, turning it on, and go for work; when you come back you might have finished all the levels.
However, of course, this is not what the game supposed to be. What this game asks the players to do is to try to fit the red guy into his context. This "fit" here refers to a Japanese style "fit". The word Kuukiyomi(空気読み), literally meaning "read the air" in Japanese, refers to the ability of a person to understand his social context and adapting into it. Unlike western society where people are encouraged to show their individual characteristics, Japan society discourages its people to be very different from others, and particularly discourages its people to disturb others. This game, then, asks the players to consider their situation in a Japanese style, and evaluates the degree of how fit they are after the completion of every 5 levels. If you don't want to be treated as an antisocial -- you'd better move! (Or sometimes, you'd better not move!)
Though similar to other casual games, this game doesn't engage complex operations; so, prerequisite knowledges on operating is trivial. In fact, on PC it requires only the left and right arrow keys with the space bar.
However, the background social prerequisite knowledge for this game is intense. This game asks you to fit the red guy into his/her content in a Japanese fitting way. This is saying the players need to know in these cases what a typical Japanese will choose to do. Even though this game won't coercively require the player to follow any standards, it has its own system of making evaluations.
For simple examples, if you see that in the context, other people are standing up and clapping their hands, then you should also stand up and clap your hands. As stated above, a typical Japanese refuse to be different from others, especially when the majority of people are conforming in doing something. Thus, in a general speaking, understanding of Japanese style social concepts is essential for playing this game.
Some typical Japanese style social skills involves (but not limited to) respecting others, following the majority, refusing to disturb others, queueing up... These are summarized as the Japanese word, "Kuukiyomi", namely, reading your atmosphere.
This is a very typical educational game with a genuine education purpose: learn how to behave as a well-socialized Japanese.
Again, even though this game doesn't ask you to be 100% correct at each level to unlock the next, it evaluates how well you've been for the past 5 levels. During the process, the players will be given a bunch of different scenarios, including career fair, sitting on a subway, staying with a couple, dancing with others, ... etc. Players will be trained in hundreds of different social scenes so that they will learn what and how a typical Japanese will do in these scenarios, in order to be considered as "Kuukiyomeru(空気読める)", namely, having the ability to read context.
However, from many levels the players may find the game designers themselves are clearly treating these social schemes as ironies, bantering some ridiculous cultural conventions. Therefore, it is reasonable to assume that the game designers also anticipate the players to learn about how to critically think about this Japanese style social philosophy. Together, this is creating this interesting yet incisive casual game.
Needless to say, all the social skills, or even the general philosophy, could be applied into the player's daily life, especially when the player is indeed a Japanese.
By social skills, what I mean is that the players will face to many different social scenarios in this game. Their experience in this game is totally a replica of reality, so the transfer of social experience from this game to the reality could be rather efficient and simple.
By general philosophy, what I mean is the understanding of Japanese society and communication methodology. There are many social fun facts in this game, including the relationship between the eld and youth, between the leader and subordinate, between the husband and wife, between the boyfriend and girlfriend... the facts that the players discovered in this game are simply another replica of reality, so from the perspective of sociology, this game is also a wonderful piece to learn Japanese society related issues.
Mechanics refer to the rules and the concepts that formally specify the game-as-system.
The game Kuukiyomi: Consider It has mainly 3 mechanics.
Red objects are the subject of the current game.
The red objects are what the players could operate and try to fit it. Their goal is to make the red objects conform with the grayscale objects in the context.
Notice the word "object" here -- the red object may not necessarily be a person. It could be a seatbelt, an apple, a baseball... anything that could allow the player to apply the concept of "fit in".
Moves are basic operation of this game.
On PC clients, the players can move the red objects with left and right arrow keys;
On Joystick platforms (PS4/Switch), the players can move the red objects with joysticks.
However, this is also the only actions the players can make. Unlike action games, the players are not allowed to dash, jump, evade,...etc.
Responses are the only interactive actions the red objects can do.
Responses are invoked by pressing the space bar, or press Joystick Button 1(X/O on PS4 DualShock4, A on Switch Joy-Con). This will allow the red objects to do some interactions with the context, such as raise its hands, say something, laugh, or throw a ball. These responses are different in each level.
Figure 1. The red guy in this context is the object for the players to move.
Dynamics refer to the run-time behavior of the game-as-system acting on player inputs.
The following lists the potential experience the players may have when playing the game Kuukiyomi: Consider it.
Understanding the contexts. This is rather a reading process. The players will read the context, understand what other people in the context are doing, and furthermore understand what others are expecting. For example, if the red object is a joker, and other people, the audience, are looking at the red joker, then the players need to understand quickly that the task is have the joker interact with the audience.
Understanding the social expectation. As stated above, the society is expecting the red object to do something that make it fits into the society. However, this expectation may not be as explicit as in the joker case above. On the contrary and in the most often cases, there won't be an explicit audience, but the players still need to understand that if this is the case, then not to be high-key would be the best strategy. --Stay silent is also a typical Japanese philosophy.
Looking for patterns. Similarly, the context will not state explicitly above what is considered as "correct". Rather, this is a commonsense that most people follow. Therefore, a major task for the players in this game is to find the pattern -- understanding what others are doing and in order to be one of them, you need to know their pattern. For example, if four people are dancing and you are the third in the queue, and the second person is following the dance of the first person with a slight delay, then you should aware that you should follow the same dance with the same delay after the second people -- only this will make the fourth people behave correctly; otherwise it will be your fault that makes the fourth people behaving wrongly.
Aesthetics describe the desirable emotional responses evoked in the player when interacting with the game-as-system.
It is definitely okay to say that "Constraint" is the aesthetic of Kuukiyomi: Consider It.
Constraint is everywhere in this game. The players are asked to hide their personal characteristics behind. They are not allow to be the one that different from others; they are not allowed to think selfishly; they are neither allowed to disturb others in the context. Their flippant actions will all result in a low evaluation of their ability to "Kuukiyomi".
From the game rule perspective, this is also a constraining game. The players don't have too much interactions with the game objects. The players should always figure out a solution under the constraint that they are not allow to do many things. This is a casual game, yet it is not free.
Figure 2. A typical level that asks the red guy to bend.
Learning Principles are the key way in which educational researchers communicate the results of their research to their practitioners.
In educational games, these principles are coded in the MDA framework. We will see how they are presented in this game.
This game provide feedback to the player on their performance as they are learning.
However, this game does not offer instant feedback. Instead, the game vaguely tells the players how well they have been over the past levels by evaluating them as "moderately considerate", "somewhat considerate", "hardly considerate" etc, with a highlight screenshot of a level.
The players will judge by themselves of which decisions had positively or negatively influenced the evaluation. The game will not offer any advice in how to improve your grade.
Figure 3. A typical evaluation certificate after 5 levels.
This game uses multiple examples to explain a new concept, and highlight similarities and differences between the examples.
This game have hundreds of different levels depicting hundreds of social scenarios. However, a bunch of them are quite similar in context setting. This asks the players to contrast between them: find the difference in the context and understand how subtle differences would result in significant social decisions.
For example, on the same scenarios where the players are set to be sitting in a subway, if there is a coming couple and your sitting position prohibits them from sitting together, then you may need to consider if the best choice for you is to stand up or to sit at the corner in order to make it possible for both of them sitting together. It also makes difference when other people in the same subway have some specific expectation on what you will do.
This game provides explicit instructions as needed to help the player anticipate where they should focus their attention -- this is obvious though, as the game always use red color to guide the players attention: you need to focus on this guy.
This game uses the red color, not only to distinguish the subject from its context, but also guide the players to be aware of the focus of making comparisons. This is stating the presumption that the red guy does not fit into the context. However, sometimes this preoccupation may be detrimental: the red guy may already have been fitted. Thus, the players' attention is successfully drawn through the distinguishing colors.
In conclusion, Kuukiyomi: Consider It is a game that requires the players to consider their social situation carefully before reach to a solution. Incorporated with rather simple operations and rules, this game succeeds in help the players get familiar with tons of different social scenarios. Social-distant players will definitely obtain some social skills through this game, while social-intense players will also find this game interesting, as some of the scenario setting is quite ridiculous.
However, from the perspective of educational purposes and effects, this game also fails in teaching the players the correct way to social. Rather than offering an optimal solution, this game provides merely an evaluation of how well the player had been for the past 5 levels. Thus, instead of saying this game is educating the players how to social, I would rather say this game only showcases the players with plentiful scenarios. This is like a teacher who only gives the students assignments and grades without providing any explanation, not even a single reference solution. From this perspective, this game lacks the sense of responsibility of helping the players to be "Kuukiyomi"-able players.
Yet, return to what I speculated at the beginning of this critique, it is reasonable to speculate that the game designers themselves are not evaluating this social stereotype as perfection. Their doubt and banter are also omnipresent in this game. That may also be the fundamental reason for their not providing a standard answer to each level -- they may also want the players to consider in their own way; anyway, who had ever said that "Kuukiyomi" itself is a good talent? If not, why are you learning?
This paradox is a very charismatic point of this game. You learn what you wish to be -- from this perspective, this game is a successful educational game, who behave as an instructor that allow your personal choices, instead of having you remember "hey, this is the only correct truth, remember it as an axiom!".