Authors: Sergio Alloza
Reviewed by: Dr. Flavio Escribano
Spanish Version: Download here (bajar aquí)
Here we are with another deep analysis of commercial video games mechanics to unravel their mysteries and relationships with soft skills. This time the Anomaly video game saga (11Bit Studios) is the target, a series of 2011-2014 real-time strategy video games with a very attractive touch of reverse Tower Defense genre, in which the players are the attackers instead of defenders (cataloged as “Tower Offense”).
This saga has 5 different video games distributed over the time and in a variety of devices. However we will focus only on the core ones or more relevant games within the serie, since the rest are either DLCs or they do not vary very much in their gameplay in comparison. Here we are interested in seeing the diversity between the selected games and how this differences influence the soft skills enhanced by them.
So the chosen video games are:
- Anomaly: Warzone Earth (2011), 1st game of the saga,
- Anomaly 2 (2013), chronologically the 3rd game and
- Anomaly Defenders (2014), the last game.
We have chosen this video games serie because a priori we thought they would be closely related to some important soft skills that are frequently demanded today. Having analyzed Complex Problem Solving with Botanícula this time we focus on Goal Setting and Organizational Skills, as well as on Cognitive Flexibility as a key element to change between both approaches. Without getting too far ahead, our initial hypotheses are around the idea that the Anomaly saga provides a duality of contexts. While at the beginning of the matches a calm and quiet context was established, favoring the planning of the troop’s route and certain movements (Goal Setting), the game itself transforms that environment into a dynamic and fast context that demands the reorganization and the adaptation to the changes that are happening on the screen while playing (Organizational Skills).
Next we will see in detail which elements are related to which contexts as well as the specific skills mentioning the achievements as indicators. Before, however, we will get to know a little more in detail the soft skills mentioned in order to gain a better understanding about the article’s content.
Goal Setting is part of a meta-competence called Self Determination (Wehmeyer, 1999). This model introduces the Goal Setting skill as a determinant in the construction of the user’s identity, as well as being the main driver or support to generate behaviors to achieve something (Schunk, 1985; Doll et al., 1996), since in any goal or achievement completion, there must be a previously defined objective and linked actions.
These psychological models and studies on Goal Setting are quite old. This is because after all this soft skill (even when it hadn’t received that name at that time) has always been present in our lives, from complex examples such as planning vital objectives to everyday cases such as what do we have to buy in the supermarket to be able to cook our favorite meal. In this article, we will refer to this skill constantly, because the players or gamers, most of the time, play always with a goal in mind, being, for example, collecting resources, killing enemies, building a solid base or simply doing some exploration.
Behind almost barely every human behavior (not only within a video game), there is a goal, so this soft skill is present from the first moment in our lives, although it can be enhanced to improve those planning processes and thus get the goal or achieve something soon as possible. This is very important because establishing an objective is not only taking into account what we want to achieve and doing it. As shown in the studies by Nicholls and Miller (1983) and Woolfolk (1990) (cited in Palmer & Wehmeyer, 2003), as we grow up as mature individuals we are taking into account more variables involved in this process (information regarding objective, skill to achieve it, the necessary tasks for it…) which can turn this phenomenon into something extremely complex.
Finally, we’d like to comment that this soft skill is cyclical since in each new establishment of new objectives we always are taking into account the experience previously learned. As Schunk (1990) says, again, the Goal Setting is influenced by Self Observation (what we call internally Monitoring Self & Others, within our list of soft skills), Self Judgment (for us it is a part of the soft skill Critical Thinking) and the own reaction we have to the effects of our achievements. As you can see, it is not easy, and even more soft skills are involved in the regulation of Goal Setting. However, in order to land it and not complicate the issue, we would like to keep on the idea of Goal Setting as a bridge between objectives to be completed and actions planned or designed to be achieved.
Regarding Organizational Skills, there is not so much bibliography. Although everyone knows the term “organize”, very few people have landed this concept from the point of view of Psychology. However, there are some studies and investigations that reveal some secrets behind this soft skills. Something that Bogdewic et al. (1997) and the current framework of CASEL (2017) agree on is that Organizational Skills fall within the “Self Management” meta-competence, understood as the ability to effectively regulate emotions and behaviors, manage stress, to control impulses and to motivate yourself.
However, the research does not deepen into the psychological concepts behind the organization. Many training applications of Organizational Skills end up falling into a list of things to be done without no much more explanation. Although this skill gains a lot of importance in our life because it implies, in part, both our academic performance (among many others, Bos & Vaughn, 2006) and our own way of living our lives. We want to make a deeper analysis that will help us to understand more the application of this skill to a playful video game context. For us, Organizational Skills have a double meaning or need:
- On one hand, a good organization of tasks will allow a lower demand for certain skills. Many times we have an agenda full of tasks or a bunch of things to be done. We could do them without sense or order but they would end up generating losses of time and effort and in some cases, stress. What we want to say with this first point is that a good organization will avoid losses of time and high levels of stress so we will be able to do it in a better way using some other skills. Therefore the Organizational Skills are understood as a saving or optimization.
- On the other hand, although it is a direct consequence of the first point, a good organization will take us not only to save energy and time but also to provide us with enough space to execute or perform the tasks in the most efficient way. By organizing ourselves and having a clear mental structure of action, we allow ourselves to focus on the task or tasks (in the case of multitasking) without redirecting attentional resources to other elements. So here the organization would be understood as an enhancer or facilitator for other skills.
This duality is important because thanks to organizational skills it is possible to optimize processes, saving effort, time and energy to enhance other aspects. In each case, the user will identify each task and, thanks to other Self Management skills and cognitive abilities (as in the case of Discipline or Critical Thinking), will be able to perform each task efficiently optimizing the process.
Another aspect to keep in mind of this soft skill is that always lands on specific behaviors or simple tasks. A process is never organized in a macro level, but each task and learning is always analyzed and organized at the micro level. As Cripwell (1982) said, Organizational Skills are precisely those skills that can be trained in a context of micro-learning and what a better context of micro-learning or micro-worlds (Quesada et al., 2005) than video games ✌?.
Again we look at a complex and holistic soft skill that is related to several soft skills, but for the case that concerns us we want to focus on understanding organizational skills as an aid for saving and empowerment. To both land and understand it better, we could see how a good organization within the game allows us not only to save resources or time but also helping us to avoid any negative consequences for us and also giving us enough space to avoid unnecessary worries to be focussed on the specific task. It is also important to know that this skill is constantly active, re-organizing and re-optimizing every process whenever a new stimulus is presented. A real life example may be that it is expected that the delivery dates of a project will not be met and it must be reorganized to be complied as soon as possible.
Contrary to the other two skills in the case of Cognitive Flexibility we have found a lot of bibliography. Talking of this branch of cognition it has been studied in clinical cases and there is still a work in progress on the definition of models that include this soft skill. However we will show only a simple definition since our goal is “just” to understand the role of this skill in the ecosystem of soft skills mentioned above.
One of the best definitions of Cognitive Flexibility is the human ability to adapt cognitive processing strategies to face new and unexpected conditions, this is intrinsically linked to attentional processes (Cañas et al., 2003, cited in Moore & Malinowski, 2009). With this simple definition we can already understand how this soft skill fits into a video game context. It is about adapting the strategies that are being remodeled continuously thanks to the constant stimulations and appearances of unexpected elements. So we see how this skill is also a key element in the set we are drawing around the Anomaly video games saga, where the Organization Skills will allow us to distribute attention on the important elements, taking into account the objectives, and being able to effectively execute the strategic changes thanks to Cognitive Flexibility.
This article tries to show the relationship between these 3 soft skills (and more) and the video games in a synthesized way but justified enough. You will see that we try to simplify the relations to 1 to 1 to emit a better understanding but the reality is more complex, been factors in the game that relates to more than one soft skill or some soft skills that are present thanks to the set of mechanics and not thanks to these for separate, not to mention meta competencies, which influence each other.
Once exposed and hopefully understood the different soft skills that we consider as key to the relationship with these games, we will expose each of the games with their mechanics, achievements and relationship within the soft skills.
Anomaly: Warzone Earth
We start with the first installment of the saga, previously mentioned: Anomaly: Warzone Earth (11 bit Studios, 2011), is a strategy game and tower offense that was initially published on PC but went released also for XBOX360 and PS3.
To introduce ourselves in the story and trying to not spoil, we will only comment that an alien race is invading the planet. The players will take command of a high tech defense military forces and they will have to secure several urban areas with a squad of mobile vehicles. The players will have to mobilize these units between the destroyed areas and plagued by enemy turrets that will attack at first sight. They will have control of the peloton’s route as well as the units that can be added by buying them and with the help of the player’s direct avatar, which represents the squadron captain who has very useful abilities.
Let’s see in depth the mechanics and the elements related to this first game on the saga.
Game mechanics and achievements
There are many variables in playing an Anomaly game. When completing the history missions, each one of them is introduced very well, in a sequenced and contextualized way (learning principle “Explicit information on demand and just in time” by Gee, 2004) so the players understand how the system and its elements work. We continue with a list of the mechanics and key components to understand the subsequent analysis relating them to the soft skills:
– Route modifications
The game allows the players to decide which way to go and where to go, as a mechanic available all the time, which leads to initially planning where you will go to cover several objectives (either, for example, clean the area of enemy units or collect resources) after visually scanning the map. Ingame also has to be attentive at all times to modify the route in case it is necessary, since most of the time unexpected stimuli appears and players will be forced to change direction at the next intersection. Thinking on where their units will go is impossible to avoid since time can fly if players focus their attention on other elements and suddenly they find that their squad is on the wrong way because they have not indicated the correct path.
– Unity squad management
It is one of the mechanics that receives attention the most from the players, since if they eliminate any unit or the entire squad, it is difficult or impossible to accomplish the mission successfully. Therefore, to monitor the state of the units is a must: the amount of life and shield the convoy still has and even its rate of fire, which is part of the offensive strategy. In addition to that, the game offers 6 different types of units with their own features, which implies knowing in advance what each unit is capable to do and select the most optimal position for an efficient performance. This information also allows us to know which units we will have to improve in a first way or which need more protection.
– Enemy units
The same way that happens with the convoy units, the attention of the players is also focussed on both the enemy units and other objects around. The player has to be aware of the number of enemies, life energy, firing frequency, the positions on the map of each of the units and above all the type of unit he’s facing. Here we also find 6 different enemy units with unique functions that greatly affect our defense strategy. At this point is important to comment that the squad attacks automatically, as a player you can not control the attack or defense, just design the squad, plan the route and use the abilities of your avatar.
– Double time
Many times the game puts us under pressure, for example, we can not stop the squad to concentrate the fire, so this already marks a specific tempo or rhythm within the game. Hence, many times a strategy of “regrouping” the squad to be healed and collecting skills on the map can be done thanks to marking a circular route on the map to “stop” this mentioned tempo. However we will find situations where we have a time limit (countdown missions) to perform the mission so this adds a second layer of pressure relative to that tempo which affects the players emotions and their decisions too.
– Abilities management
We will always keep in mind the amount of abilities we have available to make use of them. It is easy to lose track of how many abilities we have left to be spent when we are in the “Armageddon” shooting mode and we have to heal our units or distract the enemies. The list of abilities available in Anomaly Warzone Earth is as following:
- Repair: a healing station is placed on the ground to repair friendly units that pass over it.
- Smoke curtain: a curtain of smoke is placed on the ground, preventing enemies from effectively targeting units within the area.
- Decoy: a decoy is placed on the ground that receives enemy attacks protecting your units.
- Missiles: an area is marked on the ground and an airplane passes by dropping a small bomb that damages the enemies of the marked area.
– Abilities recollection
Let’s not forget the farming factor, collecting abilities on the map (most after eliminating enemy units). This is the main source of obtaining abilities to consume them later.
– Mission objective
Normally they will ask us to go from point A to point B, transport or escort something, clean the map of enemy units or ignore them to arrive on time at a delivery point. The objective will always mark us what we want to do on the map, if we will be taking deviations, focusing on enemies or making any other decision. This element is always present in the game, influencing the strategy of planning to be followed from the very beginning.
– Accelerate time
Finally, the player always has the option to accelerate time. This is usually used in simple initial missions where the player does not have to dedicate a large amount of cognitive resources and is allowed to accelerate time (thus shortening mission time). However, if the player decides to accelerate the time even in more complex final missions, this is, being able to effectively manage the other mentioned elements, that would be an indicator of a high level skills or skills improvement.
When all these variables converge in a single situation, as usually happens in most multiplayer or high complexity online video games, the user’s mind can not be aware of everything consciously (generally because we have limited attention resources and there is a limit in our multitasking capacity). This is the reason why we adopt a more intuitive position where we prioritize our attention in the things we consider important (such as keeping our units alive) while the rest is on the background and is managed more quickly in a subconscious way (although in some cases this does not necessarily imply to be efficient).
Let’s now turn to what is important, how these mechanics are linked to the acquisition of soft skills.
Soft Skills related
All the mechanics and components mentioned above are also present within the video game. Despite the fact that, we are not mentalist wizards and we can not directly access the minds of the players or the game code to see directly what is happening, so we use our data tracking from games. As you maybe already know if you have been following our blog, it is based on the achievements that players acquire while playing the game. Unfortunately these achievements are limited, since usually for each mechanics there are no specific achievements (in that case it would be an even more accurate measurement). But that does not stop us from making an analysis of the typology of present achievements, disengaging the underlying mechanics or components and hence attributing levels of soft skills. Having said that, let’s now look at the set or typology of achievements that Anomaly Warzone Earth offers and how they are linked to soft skills:
Achievements related to the use of in-game abilities
This set of achievements refers to the use of abilities within the game. A priori it seems a simple task, but let’s see it in a deeper way. Here are the soft skills which are associated with these achievements:
- Cognitive Flexibility. The player has to show enough flexibility to adapt and use the most appropriate abilities according to the situation, especially in unexpected environments when, for example, we receive a large amount of damage and we have to move somewhere to a safety place by using both distraction and healing abilities.
- Critical Thinking. Critical thinking makes the difference between a person who is capable of effectively planning a strategy and a person who only responds passively to what is happening within the game. In this context, the use of optimal abilities requires Critical Thinking that manages the aforementioned elements in order to achieve the best possible use of the skills.
- Problem Sensitivity. In the same way as critical thinking, this is an active skill that anticipates what will happen in the game. A high sensitivity to problems can lead us to take precautionary or preventive measures such as going into the battle with maximum lives points of our units or start the match using distraction abilities without receiving damage.
- Judgement and Decision Making. Although they are small, they are still decisions. At the cognitive level, each click or use of an ability within the game can be separated as individual decisions (which can also depend on other decisions), so we can not ignore the ability to judge and make decisions.
- Speed of Reasoning. Although the game can be paused, giving the player a break, Reasoning Speed is very necessary in those situations where we are overwhelmed by the number of enemies and their attacks begin to damage our units significantly. In these cases the players have to be fast enough to use the abilities correctly, even chaining the use of the same one to offer greater protection to the squad.
- Spatial Relations. This soft skill is more present in this game than Spatial Scanning. Both skills consist of finding out spatial elements in a map and as in the case, the game poses a 3D map in which the squad moves with the indications of the player. The most relevant action is not to identify the points of change of route or where the enemy units are (because there are few elements and this space scanning becomes automatic and inexpensive at a cognitive level) but to taking into account the route of our squad along the map, taking decisions on how to change that route according to the identification of enemy ships and distances and, moreover, taking into account your squad’s weapons range and also enemy’s ones.
- Complex Problem Solving. This skill deserves a prominent place in this set of achievements, especially when we talk about high levels of playing and more complex achievements, since they offer more complex problems to be solved which require even more the combined use of several soft skills.
- Monitoring Self & Others. This soft skill that stands out in the actions is related to decisions linked to how many abilities we have left to be used in the game, as well as to maintain attention in the related variables, such as the life of our troops.
- Management of material resources. Related to the previous point, resource management makes an appearance here since the players will eventually have to manage the amount of abilities they use understanding them as limited resources.
- Organizational skills vs Goal Setting. Skills that come into play when keeping in mind each and every one of the elements that are within the game related to the use of abilities, such as the need for them in each situation, the duration of these and the amount of abilities available. As commented in the header of the article, we are comparing these two skills, and Organizational Skills has more weight here because the set of achievements speaks about the dynamic and flexible context in game situations and not about planning per se at the start of the game. However, it is considered that each action within the game, in this case relative to the use of abilities, has an objective, so there would be low levels of Goal Setting. In addition, the re-planning or adaptation to the changes necessary within the game will always have an orientation to some objectives.
Achievements related to the completion of the history chapters
Set of achievements that refers to the completion of the missions during the campaign chapters. This usually means that in each mission, the squad survives or reaches its objective and depending on the mission (progressively), difficulty increases. Let’s see the soft skills related:
- Problem Sensitivity, Critical Thinking, Cognitive Flexibility, Judgement and Decision Making… As discussed in the previous set of achievements, only by relating the use of the abilities within the game could we are able to infer a certain degree of training of these soft skills. Here we position ourselves at a higher level, where the player not only has to use his skills in the game optimally but also has to have a multitude of factors in mind (in this way all the soft skills mentioned with the use of abilities are also present here). The route on the map, key areas, mission objectives, intrinsic secondary objectives (such as deviating the squad to collect certain material…) are some of the several elements that encourage and stimulate the use of all the soft skills related to Goal Setting and Organization. It is common to associate the highest level to this group of skills since we are dealing with the most complex actions in the game (which is not only completing one mission but several).
- Time Management. The Time Management soft skill is also taken into account since in some missions a timer appears, as well as including the starting tempo mentioned above. In these cases the player will have to take into account the time and its course to plan and execute the strategy.
- Management of material resources. Even though this soft skill was present in the use of abilities, it deserves special attention in this set of achievements as well. In this section, resource management skills are important, oriented to the squad itself and to the money that is available. The player will have to manage that amount of money throughout the game to invest it in the most efficient way. As we said, there are six different types of units so, once again the player will have to learn to manage the units’ features as resources to plan and execute the strategy that best suits each situation (including selling units and changing them for others, improving them and re-position them in the squad).
- Complex Problem Solving. Finally, Complex Problems Solving is discussed here with more importance. As the story progresses, the difficulty grows due to the number of enemies, new types of enemies or other elements alien to the player. The player faces more problems and more complex as he advances in history. Complete the story and get the corresponding achievements are direct indicators of a good complex problems solutions. Trying to link how complex the problems are and following Quesada et al. (2005) we can see that some variables are present in the situations of this game, such as dynamic and continuous time, with a number of important elements (enemies, allied units, map, abilities, etc.) or certain situations that require the use of immediate soft skills (Organizational Skills) and unplanned (Goal Setting).
- Organizational skills vs Goal Setting. The completion of the mission or of a group of missions in this case is a direct consequence of a good strategy or planning and its execution and adaptability. A good plan that players have had to elaborate previously to meet the objectives of each mission and, in some cases, modify it on the fly (since the game almost forces you to change your initial strategy in each mission), so this group of achievements is interpreted as an indicator of Goal Setting and Organizational Skills at similar levels.
Achievements related to the level of completion of missions (medals)
In Anomaly, according to the performance, when completing a mission you can obtain gold, silver or bronze medals. Winning gold medals involves performing the missions almost perfectly, without losing units, making optimal routes on the map, eliminating all possible enemy units and taking into account the mission time and the number of attempts. Therefore, these medals work as direct indicators of the player’s performance in the mission. This set of achievements is related to the highest rank of medals that can be obtained (the gold ones). And there are even achievements that are granted when all the missions have been carried out with gold medals.
- Previous skills. The related soft skills, following the previous arguments, are those exposed in the previous set of achievements but with a greater weight because here, we are talking about the best possible performance within the missions. In the previous scenario, the aforementioned skills were put into play but without any difficulty level requirement. Here, however, the player is required to give the best of himself and use her skills to the fullest to complete the missions and to obtain the gold medals.
- Self Discipline. This skill is added as perseverance, since winning gold medals does not usually occur on the first attempt. Moreover, it is quite possible that a player must to repeat the missions a few times in order to get some gold medals, so these achievements are taken as indicators of Discipline/Perseverance.
Achievements related to the destruction of enemy units
Here we are talking about the fact of destroying the defensive turrets of the enemies. Keep in mind that this action is not simply to finishing the enemy towers, approaching the units and firing. Keeping in mind that there are 6 different types of enemy units, each one with its own characteristics, that implies the players will have to adapt one strategy or another depending on the units they are facing (whether to place the units of the offensive squad first, if you use one type of ability or another and even take a different route to avoid receiving damage). Therefore, the soft skills Organizational Skills, Judgment and Decision Making, Spatial Relations, Monitoring Self & Others, Goal Setting and Complex Problem Solving would come into play here. Regarding the duality of Organizational Skills vs Goal Setting, we emphasize that the organization has more weight in real time than planning, since this mechanics can become something very reactive by the side of players without the need to plan the offensive strategy.
Achievements related to completing missions under specific conditions
These achievements are obtained by completing missions with conditions that normally modify the initial strategy. We will not list the skills that are strengthened here again because it would be to repeat the justification, but we do like to comment that this set of achievements stands out in Goal Setting more than in Organizational Skills, since the specific conditions of completion require a greater planning than the ordinary completion of normal missions. These achievements represent the completion of certain missions under specific conditions and the common factor to all of them is the difficulty during playing the game. So we position this typology of achievements as the most difficult because it directly speaks on the performance of the player in advanced difficulty levels, not like the rest of achievements that did not depend on the difficulty. Due to the added difficulty that these situations represent, they are added as stressful stimuli, so there will be situations in which the player has to manage this stress as well (Stress Management) in order to perform effective movements and attacks.
We continue with the second game chosen from the saga: Anomaly 2 (11 bit Studios, 2013). Initially published on PC, went to PS4 a year later, giving to more players the opportunity to continue with the battle for Humanity. This time the story places the players years after the alien invasion that was presented in the first game. Humanity faces extinction, extraterrestrial machines have taken barely total control of the earth and it is players’ responsibility to turn the situation around.
Speaking of gameplay is basically the same as Anomaly Warzone Earth, the players are still in control of the military vehicle squad along with the figure of the captain with abilities. Although it is important to comment that it does present some small innovations that influence the gameplay and in the impact of certain soft skills. In addition to increasing the type of units, it is now possible to convert units into combat robots, which is called metamorphosis, always available to the players without any limitation of use. In addition this video game adds a pair of possible endings that provide some freedom of decision, which never hurts to motivate certain type of players.
Finally comment that in this episode of the series is added a multiplayer mode that links very well with the last game. Let’s see in detail the news:
Game mechanics and achievements
As basically the game is identical to Anomaly Warzone Earth, we will not repeat here all the mechanics and elements that are also present, but we will focus on explaining the innovations that were commented previously:
– Unit metamorphosis
As we mentioned before, in this game of the saga it was added the possibility of changing the shape of the units of your squad, thus changing its characteristics. This is called metamorphosis within the game, and which basically doubles the number of units (as resources) available to the player. The modifications and differences between versions of the same unit make it so different at the level of gameplay and strategy that these versions are considered units per se. Thanks to this new asset of the gameplay there is a significant increase of resources to be managed from the first delivery to the second.
– New enemy units
Modifications have been added to some enemy units, for example, a unit that previously appeared normally is now in incubation mode and uses the energy of the high-firing rate, so the strategy to bring down this enemy changes. It is noted that the design of the game wants to take advantage of the transformation mechanics of the units to add a layer of complexity in the planning and execution of offensive strategies.
– Ability changes
Some abilities change, so the game again offers a number of more elements compared to the first game with which playing and planning new strategies. However, the use of them is still based on the same soft skills, so we will not go into these changes in detail.
In this mode, new feature in the Anomaly saga, players can fight against a friend or a random person for victory. This implies that each player will lead a side, one player will manage the movement and attack of the offensive human squad while the other player will have to build an iron alien defense to survive and annihilate the attacker. For the first time, the players can put themselves on the shoes of the alien machines and practically play a totally new and different game, since there is no need to direct or plan the movement of the armed vehicles, but in this way the skills of Resource Management and Critical Thinking have more relevance to enhance defense, planning how your defensive units will act to face repeated attacks.
Soft Skills related
Given the new components of this game, we analyze the types of achievements to establish a relationship between the new game mechanics and related soft skills:
Achievements related to transforming (Metamorph) the units
Set of achievements that are granted when a player has morphed or transformed the units a certain number of times. It is relatively simple, since it only depends on the metamorphosis number, and it is understood that the players will not change or transform the units unless they consider it necessary, that is, we start from the basis that the players will not “spam” without meaning this option to achieve these achievements.
- Judgement and Decision Making. Understanding metamorphosis of the units as decisions, however how small they may look like, it can make the difference between victory or defeat during playing the game. This decisions related to morphing are influenced by several factors such as the position on the map of friendly and enemy units (Spatial Relations) or the abilities used to assess the situation (Critical Thinking).
- Cognitive Flexibility. Being able to change or transform the units within the game offers the players a way to effectively improve the strategies that come out on the fly. This flexibility here gains a lot of importance since in this issue it is even more difficult to predict what will occurs within playing game from the beginning. With the addition of the enemy units, the players will have to be much more flexible (mainly morphing the units) to be able to adapt themselves correctly while meeting their objectives, which brings us to the next point:
- Organizational skills vs Goal Setting. Thanks to some varieties that can be given within playing, the game itself is already defining an initial planning of the strategy as meaningless, so the Organizational Skills here are much more present than in the previous game. Planning a priori all the way through the map is difficult per se, also planning to change the units in specific points depending on the enemy that you face, becomes a more degree of complexity added to the game and players will adapt themselves in order to transform the units when needed during the game, without having planned/programmed it.
Achievements related to multiplayer mode
This set of achievements refers to the actions carried out in the multiplayer mode. Within the multiplayer mode there are several novel elements such as the construction of defensive turrets and the use of abilities in those same turrets. Let’s see in detail the components and the related soft skills:
- Management of Material Resources. First of all, building defensive towers (main mechanics) costs money or “Carasurum”, the virtual currency of the game. This implies that the player will have to always keep in mind how much money he has and where to invest it on, since it is finite although it accumulates automatically throughout the game. In addition, limited abilities are available so they are also understood as a resource to be managed.
- Problem Sensitivity & Critical Thinking. Key soft skills in the preparation of the defense and the construction of turrets. The player must to anticipate in which areas will be more problems and to think which units would be the best to defend the most conflictive areas and protect them. It happens the same when using the abilities of the towers, then Critical Thinking is relevant in order to act or not according to the situation.
- Spatial Relations. This skill is very important to take into account the distances of the map, the ranges of shots of the allied, the enemy units and the areas of effect of the abilities. It can be harmful to activate a very early ability or position a defensive turret with short range far from the area to be defended.
- Judgement and Decision Making & Complex Problem Solving. This mode is riddled with micro-decisions that are always aimed to solve micro problems (which can be simple, but it is the combination and overlap of these problems that stimulates the player). Where to place the towers, when and what abilities to be used, selling units to save money and then to build stronger new ones… Here we are talking about much more than simply transforming the units as we mentioned in the previous set of achievements. Within this type of actions these soft skills gain relevance by taking into account the complexity of the context.
- Cognitive Flexibility & Monitoring Self & Others. Again, the players will have to have even more flexibility to be able to abstract, look at the situation and act accordingly, changing the initial strategy and at the same time keep the focus on the performance itself (and be aware of the situation at all times). In addition, this game mode is against real people, which adds a layer of uncertainty and non-foresight that makes Cognitive Flexibility a key skill to stay on the battlefield.
- Time Management, Speed of Reasoning & Stress Management. In the multiplayer mode to pause the game is not available so there is no time for calm. Here, the gameplay becomes much more crazy and faster so our brain will have to be fast enough to respond effectively to each situation, highlighting the soft skills of Reasoning Speed and Time Management. Such dynamism along with the amount of information to be taken into account can cause significant stress in the players, so the Stress Management soft skill will be a key element too for the outcome of the battle.
- Creativity. In the multiplayer mode players can create a defense, positioning turrets in key spaces continuously throughout the game, not only at the beginning. This is an opportunity for the players to unleash their creativity.
- Organizational Skills vs Goal Setting. As mentioned before, this game has a greater relevance relating Organization Skills and Adaptation to Changes to the game, but the Goal Setting also undergoes certain modifications in the multiplayer mode. We could say that it gains a certain weight compared to a normal history mission where the objective is always the same. Here, the objective changes and is derived into subgoals according to what happens within the gameplay. As human behavior is not predictable (instead of a machine’s one), these two skills are equalized to be able to constantly thinking in new strategies, organizing current resources and planning new objectives (such as building more turrets, defend areas, eliminate enemy units, use skills at the key moment, etc.).
Given the differences between the first two installments, we will finish the article with the presentation of the 3rd game: Anomaly Defenders (11 bit Studios, 2014). Again it was first published on PC and it was never taken to consoles, but it was released to mobile market, reaching both Android and iPhone. This last game of the saga turns back to the original approach, putting players again to only defense position, as it was already partially appreciated in the multiplayer mode of Anomaly 2.
In this way, an artificial intelligence will ask players to lead the defense of the alien race to survive the continuous earthling attacks. Therefore the gameplay discerns the originals, changing quite a bit and giving players the opportunity to make quick decisions as well as to plan an external progress to each game through the new mechanic of technology points. Not to mention that players no longer manage military vehicles or captain with abilities but 8 different types of defensive towers and new abilities that can be used.
Game mechanics and achievements
The way to play this game is similar to the multiplayer mode of Anomaly 2, but in this case players we will always control the defense only. Without further delay let’s see the differentiating components for further analysis:
– Defense mode
As we mentioned, the last installment of the Anomaly saga focuses on what we already saw in Anomaly 2 with the multiplayer mode, this is, a story focused on the classic Tower Defense genre. This time, the players will have to incarnate the skin of protector of the machines, leading the defense to face the hordes of humans with hostile intentions.
– Abilities map
As a new game mechanic they add a map of abilities that offers a feeling of progress and extreme customization to the gaming experience. In this game, the players can improve the abilities they choose, from the whole tree, thanks to the technology points that can be obtained after each mission, depending on the performance developed on every match.
When the players already skips the tutorial stage and start doing real missions, the mechanics of the events are added. These consist of phenomena that happen during the game that are alien to the factions that are at war. Within these events we can find specifically:
- Meteorite/metal balls: random damage in the form of meteorites. These can damage both your units and the enemy but must be taken into account to strengthen your troops and be aware of the damage received, without forgetting the tempo shown on the screen to synchronize shields or other defensive skills.
- Electric storm: temporary disablement of defensive towers. This only happens when an area of the map is very concentrated with towers, thus attracting the lighting. Soon reactivate the towers or you can use abilities to activate them manually, managing here the amount of energy points to activate or not the turrets, along with the decision to activate or not.
Soft Skills related
As expected, the achievements go around the new components, but also take into account other facets. Here are the achievements and their association with soft skills:
Achievements related to technology (ability tree)
In this game there are a series of achievements related to the ability tree that the players can improve with technology points. The related soft skills are:
- Judgement and Decision Making, Critical Thinking & Monitoring Self & Others. These skills are closely linked to the choice of abilities to be used during the matches, both because they need to develop a criterion to choose them properly and also because they have to take into account the previous purchases to continue with the initial strategy and unify resources. The representation by the map or tree of abilities is a classic way of capturing the tracking of players themselves, because when buying abilities a personalized map is generated in which the steps that have been made can be observed, being related to the skill of Monitoring Self & Others.
- Management of Material Resources. Players also have the resources management itself, understanding resources as the technology points that allow them to buy these abilities. At first players can spare points to exchange the first abilities but throughout the game they may have to manage the number of points with a strategy according to the above, since for example players can benefit from waiting to get more points technology to buy a more powerful ability.
- Self Discipline. This game mechanism for point collection is not possible to be completed with a single run in the game, or what is the same, completing only once all the missions (in fact you could get all the points playing only once but you would have to perform all the missions in maximum difficulty mode). As this alternative is unlikely, it is inferred that players will not play at the maximum difficulty from the beginning so that at the end of the game there will still be technology points to be achieved. The skill of Persistence or Discipline will then enter into the equation in order to make easier to achieve them all by re-doing the missions in the highest difficulties.
- Organizational Skills vs Goal Setting. This new mechanics adds a layer of complexity linked to the ability to plan, since ideally players from the beginning can plan what abilities they want to buy and boost against those they want to ignore, thus optimizing the use of those abilities. Keeping in mind that this mechanics refers to a calm context in which only the players have to think about what to buy with the objectives in mind, the Organizational Skill is in the background, giving a way to Goal Setting skill.
Achievements related to the construction of turrets
Set of achievements that refer to the number of turrets built in the same mission and the accumulation of “undefeated” games without losing a single unit. What seems simple becomes a survival race for units that require many attentional resources to meet these objectives. This set of achievements has a reasonable resemblance to the multiplayer mechanics of Anomaly 2, since in the multiplayer players could play as a machine and build a defense and not an attack. Therefore, as in Anomaly Defenders players find the same game model, the same skills are also present, although some stand out more due to the presence of new mechanics such as random damage in the form of meteorites or the possibility of improving units with technology.
- Management of Material Resources. The first thing that must be taken into account in this case is the cost of construction or how much Carasurum costs to build a single unit. Which brings us to the next question, how much and how often we get Carasurum in the game. This type of resource is scarce in the Anomaly universe, so the players will have to make optimal use of it and manage that resource well in order to get the achievements related to the construction of the most complex and expensive units. As secondary skills linked to the Management of Resources we find Critical Thinking, Goals Setting, Decision Making and even Monitoring itself to know how many units you have built and how many are missing to get the achievements, as well as in what position they are built and how they level up.
- Cognitive Flexibility. On the other hand, building a single type of unit multiple times may not be the best at a strategic level within the game, so the players must have sufficient Cognitive Flexibility and be organized according to two simultaneous objectives: first, building said units and second, maintaining a good defensive performance to finish the level.
- Complex Problem Solving & Problem Sensitivity. At this point, soft skills such as Problem Sensitivity and the own solution to them gains much importance since the hordes of humans will not make it easy for players. Each horde will suppose a problem to be solved by the players, using in an optimal way the abilities in the defensive towers that they have built previously.
- Time Management & Stress Management. To all this and despite the fact that the gameplay can be paused to give orders to the units, we can not forget about the time factor. It plays a crucial role in the game, dictating the rhythm of the hordes and enemy fire, so the players will have to sharpen the skills related to this variable, such as the Stress and Time Management as well as the Speed of Reaction and Reasoning.
- Creativity. As also commented in the multiplayer part of Anomaly 2, this game mode provides the necessary resources to create a strategy and a defense from scratch, in fact, Carasurum provides players to build units and an empty whole map to fill, from here it is totally in the hands of the players how to do it, so it is the ideal virtual space to stimulate Creativity in players.
- Organizational Skills vs Goal Setting. We end with the usual duality, where both skills are very important here. The players must always keep in mind the goal of keeping alive the units they build to guide each action to protect them in the same way that the players have to constantly adapt to the attacks of human hordes.
Achievements related to the use of abilities
In this last Anomaly game the players also have abilities that can be used on each of the built turrets. Linked to the evolution of the technology tree, the abilities provided by Anomaly Defenders are:
- Shield: to protect our units for a limited time.
- Rage: to enrage our units and cause them to do more damage for a limited time.
- Sniper: to boost the units fire range for a while.
- Pulse EM: to deactivate the nearby enemy units for a limited time.
- Explode: to self-destruct a unit and damage nearby enemies.
- Repair: to heal our units for a limited time.
This set of achievements and its relationship with soft skills coincides with the achievements of the first game of the saga that also referrs to the use of abilities. It is true that the context and the gameplay are different, because in the first game players attack with a moving squad and in this last game you defend in a static way, but the use of the abilities is still linked to factors such as time, the amount of energy/abilities that we have and can use and, of course, the strategy we follow. However, it is mentioned because it is an element to take into account in the duality of Organizational Skills vs Goal Setting. The use of abilities is more linked to the organization in real time, to flexibility and adaptation to unexpected events than to the initial planning of where and when to use each skill (almost impossible to plan).
So far the exhibition of the different video games of the Anomaly saga. As you can see, each video game has its own characteristics and these define how soft skills are stimulated and trained in each of them. This article serves as a specification of the general article about genres of video games, where we already pointed out a tendency of certain skills regarding the type of game. Here we have focused on the genre of Strategy, Tower Defense or Offense, and we have seen that the most outstanding skills are those of Goal Setting and Organizational Skills, each in a different context but coexisting in each situation in order to get the best output from the players and optimize their performance.
As a conclusion about this duality between the key skills mentioned at the beginning of the article, we can not say that it “wins” one over the other. The most correct thing would be to say that each soft skill has an important relevance in this genre of video game, while Organizational Skills is more present in processes of adaptation to change, it also serves as an engine of change, together with Cognitive Flexibility, to adapt strategies planned at the start of the game, always taking into account the objectives of the same.
This type of analysis allows us to go deeper into the unknown world of soft skills in order to observe how they influence each other. What at the beginning we hypothesize there is a duality has ended up as a symbiosis between two meta-competencies which has taught us that there is no planning without organization or adaptation without objectives. By getting to know these relationships better, the analysis model becomes more specific, surpassing even the traditional models where only one skill is analyzed, isolated from the rest, as is the case with standardized tests. A model of holistic analysis allows not only to see the level or the real impact of a skill, but also reveals the significant relationship between other equally important soft skills.
It is also interesting to see how each specific mechanics within the game is linked to their soft skill set. We have seen, for example, that the use of abilities within all three games as well as related soft skills has predominated and, something that seemed so simple at first sight, has been broken down into a complex system of soft skills interrelationship.
What we wanted to show also with this article is that behind the “simplicity” that a user can perceive as a player (or not) there is an excellent work of game design that is responsible for balancing all these elements within the game, specifying the actions of the same within the ecosystem. The good part of this is that the initial design of the game was not intended to evaluate or detect the soft skills, instead, wanted to make an attractive and motivating video game that would engage the player to a fun environment. Precisely this is the differentiating point between the video game as an evaluation tool and traditional methods, where the latter, being specifically designed for that, implies a certain “boredom” and biases in the collection of data, such as the Hawthorne Effect (McCarney et al., 2007), while video games provide a “stealth assessment” (Shute, 2016) that actually measures the performance of players under the original and “natural” playful act layer.
Something simple to evaluate soft skills in the world of human resources is the well-known role playing game: “sell me this pen” (The Wolf of Wall Street, Paramount Pictures, 2013). In the same way, this role playing game can also tell us a lot about certain soft skills of the users. Video games enter the equation at this moment, where “sell me this pen” becomes: “keep calm in a stressful virtual environment”, “optimizes the route through the map to collect all the resources”, “finish with all the enemies without losing units”, etc. Does it make sense? This, dear readers, is nothing more than the achievements we analyze with the Soft Skills Games methodology. This specificity of the relationships between video games and certain soft skills confirms, in passing, once again that not all video games can be used to train or detect the whole list of available soft skills, but it is much more practical and reliable to detect the skills with tools specific to them, that is, certain video games that have certain characteristics, this is: specific game mechanics.
With this article we continue with the series of video games linked to soft skills in a concrete way and we expose, once more, the relationship between the characteristics of the game and the soft skills. The Anomaly saga is presented as an excellent resource to train Organization Skills and Goal Setting, in a dynamic context that will require the player’s best skills to adapt to change and new unexpected situations.
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