TITLE:3-D Body Adventure
RELEASE DATE:c. April 1994
DESIGNER:Don Button
COMPOSER:Hamilton Altstatt
PLATFORMS:DOS, Windows 3.x, Windows, MacOS

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On 3-D Body Adventure and "Educational Games"

A 3D render of the human brain, its sections marked by color.

0053.07.09.2019: "Reverse Echo"
>Playing 3-D BODY ADVENTURE feels like a wiki walk.

The reference section in particular is deceptively well-designed. Everything is linked to everything else. Click here to learn about the divisions of the brain. Click here to learn about skeletal muscles. Click here to learn about smooth muscles. There's an index searchable by typing, and more than enough supplimentary material to justify the format, from 360-degree still pictures to a host of moving ones, from spoken descriptions to stereoscopic 3-D--the name didn't rise out of thin air!

It lends itself to the same almost unconscious habit of jumping from one node to the next to the next, each node popcorn for the brain. It's years before Wikipedia, with the World Wide Web in its infancy, but it's not really surprising that we find ourselves turning in the same circles. Neither development exists in isolation; both are the manifestations of what people thought was the promise of information, the promise of breadth, depth and access of digitized information, be it through the enormity of the CD-ROM or the infinity of the internet. For many, they were manifestations of the promise of the computer itself, a prophecy only half-fulfilled. The writing was on the wall from the start; 3-D BODY ADVENTURE is like an echo in reverse.

The promise of information and the promise of virtual space are more deeply linked than they appear at first glance. You see this thread running throughout the software of the era, in games designed by people who otherwise didn't talk to each other and weren't aware of each other. ALICE was a museum and an artbook. KYOTO was a dungeon and a history book. 3-D BODY ADVENTURE is a lecture that doubles as a lab. And this is all very natural, from a certain point of view. To the programmer, information is space; to the computer, space is information. ROGUE is text on an animated page.

Neurons firing in shades of ultraviolet.

3-D BODY ADVENTURE is easier on the eyes and ears than I was expecting, even taking its advertising into account. Its soundtrack is the kind of dreamlike, enveloping synth you don't expect to find in a talking encyclopedia, and I found its renders of the brain and synapses especially endearing. A screencap of the latter is going in [my personal files]. I'm calling it "Inner Space."

While games about Learning and Matching Body Parts and Adding Apples might seem pretentious and misguided to some (of which, for the record, I am not one,) the developers of this game and the other Knowledge Adventure games had a subtler, more ambitious goal in mind: to prove to its young audience not only that learning about the human body could be fun, but that learning and curiosity in general could be engrossing, deeply rewarding drives in their own right. In their own words:

"The Theory about Knowledge Adventure Interactive Books is that the way to ignite a child's intellect is to introduce him or her to the fun of learning. If we truly achieve this, we no longer have to come up with sneaky ways to get kids to learn; once they recognize the inherent joy of learning, nothing will stop them from finding out everything they want to know!"

Knowledge Adventure wants to teach kids to teach themselves. Knowledge Adventure: Learning is addictive!

This mindset permeates the design of the game (book?) The open-ended structure of the reference section described above is fine-tuned to exploit the same innate will to explore that powers the both the adult scientist and the Zelda master. "These books empower the user with a sense of control over the entire experience, reinforcing the thrill of discovery."

The secret of making learning though, in the end, is that it isn't difficult at all. Every good game does it. There has always been a schism between "educational" and "fun" games; the former have the burden of so much mythologizing, the latter the burden of so much bad press. They feed into each others reputations, they nurture an antibiotic relationship. Yes I went and looked up the opposite of "symbiotic." Learning is fun!

A man cosplaying as a Brain Age: Express Sudoku game box.
© BrokenSphere / Wikimedia Commons

To the point (towards the point,) I'm reminded of the fever stoked up by "Brain Training" games like BRAIN AGE and BIG BRAIN ACADEMY, and the almost magical powers attributed to them by the public over their "Brain Draining" counterparts, and the studies that were conducted over whether there was any truth to the theories of Kawashima and the miracle claims of his disciples. I'm reminded of them, because the results were surprisingly un-illuminating and in- conclusive. Some students did better in math after trying these games out. Some didn't.

The only thing we knew for sure is they certainly got better at playing the game, as would anyone who practiced regularly, so promised the blurbs on the backs of the boxes. But was this really proof of mental evolution? It would be understandable to conclude instead that the only thing these games were teaching you was how to play them well. (It's a shame I can't conduct a study of my own.)

If this was the case, though, it would be neither bad nor surprising. Instead, it would give the lie to the schism.

All games are teaching machines. All games teach you how to play them well. A game teaches you what you need to know to beat it; there's no guarantee that you'll absorb anything else. If Brain Age doesn't make you better at math, that's not because it has no power to teach. It's because Brain Age *isn't a math game.* The math content in that game is minimal. It is present, however, and if you think about the nature of that presence, some anomalies in the study begin to make sense. If I remember correctly, there was more success with the game with regards to math performance among a group of primary school students (first grade, was it?) than there was among a group of adults, and if I had to guess, I'd say it was because the short, rapid-fire math problems given as part of some of its events were closer to the material these students were already learning. Getting good at the game, then, had its benefits for them, but mastering split-second mental multiplication won't put you on the fast track to acing college Calculus.

The congratulations screen at the end of the Body Recall minigame.

For what it's worth, I think educational games really do work. Not because they're magic, but for the very simple reason that they give you an endless set of practice problems, and that although improving any skill takes time and effort, the likes of MATH BLASTER and READER RABBIT make this painless. But the most important part of any educational game is the broader curriculum it is a part of. They work best when there is someone outside of them, a teacher or a parent, to connect the lessons of the game to real life, and to teach the child how to apply what they've learned. It's exactly like how an art game requires the active discourse and discussion of a critical community to be fully understood by the members of that community.

You have to talk about the game. You can't just play it until you get smart.

This is how it works for film, for literature, and if you've taken a class on good study habits and learned proper note-taking techniques, you'll know that this is even how it works for textbooks. Gathering information is only half the process. Information does not equal knowledge.

This is why I take my notes.

But I digress. Do I ever digress! I'm almost done with the meat of this 3D body adventure. The muscle, if you will. I just have to complete the "Emergency" sub-game and watch the rest of the flyby movies, including the infamous "Heart Attack" sequence. This game wasn't on my 100-item backlist, but I recently learned that I put ATLANTIS NO NAZO on there twice, so guess what I'm adding in its place? It's an easy check-off, putting on a game that I'm already halfway through. But it deserves it. <0312.07.09.2019