Building Virtual Worlds
Building Virtual Worlds
World building often means many things working together in harmony. You might need to harvest minerals in order to construct certain buildings, which in turn need to power stations in order to function. If you build too many of one thing, you might find your game becoming unbalanced. Similarly, if you build randomly without a plan, you might not be able to do what you want to do. (Pg. 19)
There are six books in the “Game On!” series authored by Kristy Holmes, Building Virtual Worlds, Action-Adventure Games, Co-Ops, Teams & MMO’s, and Platform Games, Strategy Games, and Speed Racers.
Each book in the series gives a description of the genre that is friendly for young readers and non-gamers. The read is generic and easily accessible while introducing some terms and important cultural references that each genre has built up in its short history. To provide a greater understanding of the video game medium, the series has included sections to highlight some key games in the genre (“Fact Files”) and Console Profiles.
The series introduces gaming genres for easy consumption. Reluctant readers and non-gamers will find just enough content to speak to some of the more nuanced terms in the genres. The additional resources section of the series is small collection of websites that lack any useful reading on the genre and point listed games and game studios. Use of the books in this series is best for pleasure reading and introducing nonfiction texts to readers who have a high interest in gaming. The series has the elements teachers would want in a nonfiction text for teaching purposes clearly exhibited. Even if the content is meager, the series has enough power to grab some reluctant readers as the graphics and language are very engaging. To be fair, it is difficult to write about gaming genres devoid of specific game context because, while many of the terms are shared, many games have specific implementations unique to its own franchise. Reading any single book left me wanting for more.
“Welcome to the Arcade” is the opening section of every single book. The arcade is a throwback to the early days of gaming and serves to immerse the reader in the genre. Throughout the series, there are many references to early gaming and gaming culture that may be lost on younger or uninitiated readers. Through the use of simple language and building upon readers’ prior knowledge of gaming hardware, culture or references, this section asks questions to help readers to see if this genre would be interesting to them. Readers with a greater knowledge of gaming or stronger readers will find the information sparse.
Following the introduction, most of the books then rotate through the sections: “Fact Files” (highlights a game in the genre), “Tech Talk” (important terms used in many of the games or specific to the genre), “Get Your Game On” (genre specific facts and information), and “Pro Talk” (an interview with a person working with video games in some context). The “Pro Talk” section is a welcome addition as it highlights involvement other than the gaming developers and reveals how robust the gaming industry is as a whole. In lieu of a “Pro Talk” section, some books will highlight a specific technology used to create or used in that specific genre of games.
The textual features of the books include a table of contents, bright graphics and text, links to some of the mentioned games, resources, glossary and an index. Some of key gaming terms used throughout the text are not listed in the glossary. However, the glossary has words that are more technical in nature or less frequently used in a primary students’ vocabulary.
The series builds with each book delivering some much-needed published information on gaming. Given the continuity of sections such as the “Console Profiles and Pro Talk, it would make more sense to have the content of the entire series collected in one book The decisions for the placement of certain elements, such as “Console Profile”, “Pro Talk” and other entries seem arbitrary and disjointed. Some consoles have never been strong performers in certain genres, and it is strange to see them highlighted in a book featuring a genre where it is not known well.
In the classroom, students are often using the gaming terms without completely understanding them, and the “Game On!” series will help some of them join the conversation with their peers. The images used are a mix of game graphics screen shots taken directly from the games. The layout of the books matches the text density from games and apps on a smart phone. The brightly coloured pages, images and colloquial text make for a series of quick reads. The sections highlighting games are the best part of the books. They give helpful background information about games in the genre. The “Fact Files” really do need a bit more content from the games themselves; it is hard to understand how important some of the content is when not immersed in the games. A small nitpick is that some of the games highlighted are out of date, and, as well, the books have not captured the most popular games in rotation in 2019. Since gaming rides waves of popularity and, while some are considered classics, some of the games are not as well known outside of their specific following.
Building Virtual Worlds introduces games with some creation mechanics as part of their core gameplay. Whether it is building a simulated park as the omnipotent creator or playing through the eyes of the lead character, this book writes about some of the most popular building games. However, there is an oddity of including a profile on mobile gaming in this book. While modern mobile gaming is somewhat popular with world building games, historically, mobile gaming did not have very many games in this genre. “Pro Talk” contains an interview with a writer who answers some questions about her thoughts on what makes games good.
Francis Ngo is a teacher-librarian at Banting and Best PS in the Toronto District School Board in Toronto, Ontario.