Tag Archives: edutainment

Learning about gross insects with Aniscience’s help

gd-aniscience-impressions

As a young boy in a public school on the East Coast in southern New Jersey, I had my standard fill of edutainment games, such as The Oregon Trail and Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego?. These were interactive experiences designed both to educate and entertain. Like, now I know that dysentery is a terrible thing for anyone to get, extremely detrimental to one’s colon and health, and that it will severely impact your chance of seeing the end of your covered wagon’s journey to Oregon’s Willamette Valley. But enough about the highs and lows of 19th century pioneer life because I’m here to talk about bugs. Flowers, too. But mostly those creepy-crawlies that, from my point of view, exist solely to freak me out and slither into my open mouth as I sleep.

Aniscience is a fine piece of edutainment, performing both actions of entertaining and informing well enough, though I do wish there was a little more interaction from the player. Well, easier interaction, to be honest. To start, it’s still in development. You can basically play a demo of the first level, and there are promises of more areas to come. Ultimately, Aniscience is a cutesy, mouse-driven journey about discovering nature, its laws, and the principal species of plants and animals. Or, in the case of the demo level, all things that live in the dirt. Y’know, insects galore.

Here’s how one plays Aniscience. You control the tiny brown mouse, either with the arrows keys or, I assume, if on some kind of touch-based device, with your figure. This cinnamon-brown mouse by the way reminds artistically of the characters from Eric Carle’s The Very Hungry Caterpillar, and I’m perfectly okay with. Anyways, by lightly dragging a magnifying glass over a selected object (animal or plant), you can get a page of facts on the screen. These are real, honest-to-science facts, too. I mean, look at all these common shrew details:

common-shrew-capture

Other than that, you can click (or tap) on the specific animal/plant in question to watch it animate slightly. That’s basically the experience, backed by a soft, friendly soundtrack of happy keyboard notes, as well as birds chirping. It’s inviting, simplistic, and visually pleasing. I still wish there was more interaction, like maybe comparing different bugs and flowers to one another or somehow modifying the scene, like adding in food or a predator and seeing how things change. Also, having to drag a magnifying glass over each and every thing you want to examine is tiresome. I get that the developers probably wanted a very straightforward control system, but I’d have preferred having the examine on one mouse click and the animation on another. It’s not a deal breaker.

Aniscience is a pretty fun way to learn about nature, even if some of the bugs are super gross. You are rewarded with exploring by learning about a new critter or flower, and while that might not sound immediately satisfying…it is. I wish you could collect these fact cards in some kind of journal, that way you could both have a goal of finding them all in one area and can easily pull them up later to view without having to go back to the specific thing in question and re-magnifying glass them. Again, not deal-breakers. I’m viewing this more from the “Is it fun as a game?” perspective, where I’m sure others coming to it just for education purposes aren’t even thinking about stuff like this. I mean, again, that mouse is pretty dang adorable.

The versatile, grandiloquent mix that is Frog Fractions

gd final thoughts on frog fractions

Look, I took a genuine stab at Frog Fractions back when it was all anyone on the Internet with a Twitter account or blog-posting machine could talk about. It was spoken about loudly and in enthusiastic tones, with the insistence that it was more than met the eye. That it harbored some surprising secrets beneath its initial educational slant. I got as far as the text-based adventure game, getting stuck in one of the three rooms and unsure of how to proceed. Which is a shame, seeing as there wasn’t much more to go after that. Anyways, I can now say I’ve seen it all, even if I don’t understand it all.

I’ll do my best. Frog Fractions is a browser game developed by Twinbeard Studios, a company composed primarily of founder Jim Crawford, released to the innocent and unaware public in 2012. A quick glance at it reveals it, more or less, as a spoof of the edutainment game genre, of which ones from my past that I absolutely ate up were Number Munchers and Oregon Trail. Y’know, interactive things that taught you smart stuff as you went. In this game, the player begins by controlling a frog who eats bugs to stop them from destroying fruit. After each successful round, the player can then spend points on upgrades to improve the frog’s abilities, and these upgrades range dramatically and include a back-and-forth dialogue over the merits of auto lock-on versus straight tonguing it. In fact, Frog Fractions does not actually teach the player anything about fractions except for the fact that the player’s score, which is seemingly inconsequential, is given in fractions.

If you’ve not gotten around to playing Frog Fractions and that hodgepodge of a summary job above piqued your interest, by all means, stop reading this post and go play it. Because I will now be moving into “meets more than the eye” territory, and boy oh boy is it bonkers. Yeah, totally nuts.

Okay. Buckle up, readers. Remember those upgrades? Well, after you collect enough fruit, you can eventually purchase a warp drive, which allows the frog to ride a dragon through an asteroid field to Bug Mars. That’s the planet Mars now run completely by bugs. Before you get there, you have to do battle with an alien robot squid that is reminiscent of a bullet hell shoot ’em up, like R-Type. After this, you go to court and must answer some multiple choice questions in order to obtain a working visa. Then it’s back to what you already know, eating flies and protecting fruit, except the bullet hell aspect is back; however, this time, you can dip under the water to escape playing any more “traditional” Frog Fractions and instead learn some totally fake history about how the sport of boxing came to be. After this relaxing maze, the frog activates a spaceship and must maneuver through a text adventure game to return to Bug Mars. Last time, this is where I gave up. Upon completing this, you are given some fake-as-fake-gets credits, which are quickly followed up by an impossible-to-play mockery of Dance Dance Revolution as you run for…president. No matter how good or bad your fancy footwork is, you’ll acquire the role of presidency of Bug Mars. Then you have to do a business simulator that is all about insect porn. Once that is done, you get the real credits, which features heavy metal music and pictures of bugs doing the nasty with their inappropriate bits pixelated.

Whew.

As you can see, Frog Fractions is more than just a spoof of edutainment titles from our nostalgia-driven days. It spoofs a number of genres, and stacks them one after the other, in ways that seemingly don’t make sense. Some worked for me, and some didn’t, but it’s the not knowing what comes next aspect that really propelled me forward this time around. The wackiness and sharp turns are equally enjoyable, especially if you truly came to this hoping to experience some good ol’ fashioned fun with fractions.

I’m glad that I finally sat down and saw Frog Fractions through to its conclusion. Despite the subject at hand, I actually enjoyed the insect pornography simulator mini-game. Though I’m glad I won’t have to hear that frog “slurping” up those flies ever again; it’s the sort of sound effect that lodges itself in your brain and makes you shake your head instantly upon hearing it. All that said, I’m ready for Frog Fractions 2. Whatever it is. Perhaps it’s already out there and I played it, but I kind of doubt that. My closest guess is…this.