I like games. I like them a lot. One of the many reasons I like games is because they have the power to inspire and teach people. They have the power to give you an enjoyable experience, and then within that experience be teaching you new things, that you will then know forever, to your net benefit. They literally let you have fun, while making your life better. But before you worry that I’m about to launch into some high-concept shenanigans, let me say that today, all I want to do is mention Google’s homepage doodle.
If you’ve ever used Google, you’ll probably notice how they have little animations or pictures on the search page. They’re often quite fun, and if you click on them you might learn something about a great historical figure, or a notable World Day. In general, they’re pretty cool.
Today – 17/12/2015 – Google did a doodle that made me physically cheer: it did the best example of a fun, free game – that teaches you – that I’ve seen in a long time.
So, I already know how to read music. So do many people I know. But that’s the thing – most people don’t. And this Google doodle isn’t just for me, it is being seen by millions of people. Millions and millions of people. Tens of millions of people. And I’m willing to bet most of those people can’t read music (or at least, can’t read the western classical notation of music). Today’s Google doodle literally teaches you how to read music. It does so quickly (in under 10 minutes). It does so simply (it’s a mix-and-match puzzle), and it does so in a way that’s fun (as part of an ongoing narrative of Beethoven having a comically bad day, and the puzzle itself being enjoyable).
Now. Talking about a game that teaches you, you might notice how I’m avoiding the phrase ‘educational game’. This is because in general, most ‘educational games’ are fucking awful. They’re boring. They’re unintuitive. And worst of all, they are only educational games. They are games with the sole purpose of ‘I will teach you this thing’. Everything else, like player enjoyment, comes massively in second. Which usually means that people playing them aren’t engaged. Which means they won’t learn as much. It’s self-defeating to a phenomenal degree. I have to admit that these days they’re getting a lot better. But I’m still scarred from the educational games of the 90s and early 00s.
This Beethoven google doodle isn’t an educational game. It’s just a little game, that happens to teach you. It doesn’t make a big song and dance about teaching you. It doesn’t say “Well done! You scored FOUR out of TEN today”. No, it just gives you a hook, and a puzzle to solve. It’s short enough that most people won’t lose interest – and the game shows you that it’s short, showing that there are only four levels. But on each level, you get to assemble a famous Beethoven song – maybe you already know it, maybe you don’t – but you get to mix and match little segments of music until you make the classic shape. But while you’re doing this? You can click on the segments to play it – and the game highlights the notes being played. Even if you’ve never seen notation before in your life, you’ll understand that the game is saying this sound you are hearing, is this note here in front of you. As you play through the levels you might notice things; ‘huh, so that double lined section is always at the end.’ Or ‘huh, so the empty oval-stick is twice as long as the black oval-stick.’ Fuck! This is musical notation 101, and you’re learning it! No one is shoving it in your face. There’s no punishment for doing it ‘wrong’. In fact if you do do it ‘wrong’, you get a reward – you get to hear and create little bits of music, inventing new patterns. There is no way to ‘lose’, only different ways to enjoy it. This game is fucking brilliant.
I don’t want to do a huge unpacking of this, I don’t want to pick apart every part of it’s design. I just want to celebrate that this thing exists. It’s short, accessible, enjoyable and you learn. Oh, and it’s freely available to millions of people. The upshot of that is, quite simply, that this doodle might single handedly do more to benefit humanity’s musical literacy and enjoyment than most other things I’ve ever come across. I’m not even exaggerating even teeny tiny bit.
So I highly recommend you spent five minutes of your day, and go play it: HERE