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Games for Learning - Riven

As a young gamer my favourite games were RTS (Real Time Strategy), 2D and 3D FP (First Person) Adventure and Puzzlers. I could never grasp the attraction of Sports or Racing titles. Games such as Chrono Quest, The Secret of Monkey Island and Dizzy stole most of my gaming time until the release of the ‘Command and Conquer’ series and then ‘Tomb Raider’ and ‘Myst’. It’s this last entry which has stuck with me the longest. A series of adventure games (and books) following the story of the fall of the D’ni civilisation. Myst itself was a profoundly engaging game but its sequel, ‘Riven’ was where I truly fell in love with the series and as an educator have gone back for countless learning experiences.

Here are my thoughts and experiences on using Riven in the classroom:

Despite it's age, Riven as a game is still one of the most effective games I have used in the classroom. Riven is a FP Adventure game. Played in the first person as though you yourself were on the island and looking through your own eyes. It is also a point and click adventure. As you navigate the beautifully imagined world, stunning scene by scene you are encouraged to explore the landscape and architecture through pragmatism and curiosity. Clicking on points of interest, textured scenery and objects and clicking buttons or pulling levers. Riven is ultimately a puzzle game. A mystery to be solved. Riven is available on the PC or on the Playstation 1 (PSOne). When working in schools I use the Playstation 2 (PS2) as the games are compatible and a PS2 is easier to get a hold of.

The world of Riven...

Riven is the name of an age and the main island in that age (No time to explain ages here but worth checking out). Gehn, one of the characters in the Myst storyline, referred to this age simply as his ‘Fifth Age’. As a result, the number five can be found in many of the islands scenes and puzzles, including pentagonal-shaped architecture, the fact there are five islands and five is the point at which the D’ni numbering system changes. I’ll explain the numbering system shortly. Riven is an unstable age. In a state of deterioration. Originally however, it was just one island. Over time, the main island of Riven split into five separate islands which continued to drift further apart. There was a network of footpaths to connect these islands, but with the islands continually moving apart they were unsustainable and so Gehn installed a mechanical transport system to connect the islands. Getting this system working is one of the first puzzles.

The world of Riven, like all of the games in the ‘Myst’ series are beautifully imagined. For its time (early 1990’s) Riven was, and still is hailed as a triumph in realistic world creation with almost photographic quality. Bringing to life a world that could only exist in our minds and making it look as though someone had actually visited and taken photographs. Riven is about an adventure on a small archipelago consisting of five islands on which an ancient culture once lived. This culture, known as the D’ni have disappeared and their island world is in a state of deterioration. Through some video cut scenes and a written journal, you are charged with the investigation, and possible rescue of the D’ni people. Or at the very least, their culture. One thing worth noting (without giving too much away) is that, aside from the occasional cut scene in which another NPC (non player character) appears, there are no other people in the game. No players to interact with, no battles with an evil-doer and nothing to run from. You are, for the most part, alone and at peace with the world. This, for me was always one of the great attractions in Riven and the Myst series. A freedom to explore out with the structure of expectation, deadlines and threat. Each beautifully rendered scene has something to explore or observe which will, at some stage be a part of a larger puzzle leading you towards the endgame. The occasional animation of bugs flying, leaves blowing or a flickering candle only heightens the sense of realism about the world. It’s this play on the senses that makes Riven so engaging. The imagery is not the only thing that stirs an interest in each scene. The game has been cleverly crafted to use ambient sounds such as wind, trees rustling and bug wings buzzing as you travel around. Sound effects are also deployed when you take action. Creaking doors, rolling stones on wood surfaces, old machinery starting up. Where you turn a rusting lever, you get a rough, creaking sound of metal on metal. Lighting mechanics also add a warm, refreshing feeling to the outdoors and a coy, candlelit feeling to the indoor scenes.

On top of this there is the D’ni language and the numbering system. Within the game players will come across symbols and sigils which are in fact a complete numbering system and written language. There is even a school house that you can explore and learn in. All together, Riven has proved one of the most engaging games I have used to date simply because of the style of the game and the detail in its making. But there is more to using it in teaching than that. After a brief explanation of each of the islands I will cover some of the ways I’ve used it.

Temple Island:

Known as ‘Allapo’, this island consists of two smaller islands. There are a series of puzzles on Temple island which link to other island puzzles and the overall success of the game. This is the island you start on (link-in) and it contains the Dome that redirects energy to Gehn’s Linking Domes(you need to power this), the Star Fissure, and the Beetle Room with prayers to Gehn and of course, the temple itself.

Jungle Island:

Also known as Village Island, this island is home to the only surviving Village where the vast majority of the surviving Rivenese population are hiding. The island contains a lagoon, where the school is located. You can learn the D’ni numbering system and alphabet in the school. Many of the trees on the island have been cut down to be converted into paper for Gehn’s books on Crater Island.

Crater Island:

This small island hosts a boiler for making paper and books, as well as Gehn’s original headquarters. Many clues to the demise of the islands and the population can be found here.

Plateau Island:

Also known as Map Island, it has a wide plateau with a miniature map of the Riven islands. Gehn used this island to study the deterioration of the Riven Age. The map forms part of a puzzle.

Prison Island:

The fifth island once held the massive Tree of Riven. Now the tree has gone. Cut down for Ghen’s books. it now serves as a prison for Catherine (another of the main characters). The Prison Island has drifted far away from the other islands and is only reachable through Gehn’s ‘Age 233′.

Learning in another world

So, how can Riven been used in education? As with many off-the-shelf games, Riven offers a wealth of curriculum and soft-skills learning opportunities. Here are some examples of the learning I’ve drawn from Riven in the classroom:

Literacy -

Riven lends itself naturally to the development of literacy. First of all the game is designed to be more of an experience than a game. With interaction between characters at a minimum the game relies on the player becoming immersed in the environment. Sights, sounds and the puzzles themselves. To this end we have conducted writing workshops with pupils in which they use the game to develop different writing styles.

Descriptive writing -