Design of Educational Games: Game Critique 4

Jaclyn Saik

Fizzy’s Food Truck

Developer: PBS Kids (Fizzy’s Lunch Lab)

Platform: Browser (Flash)

High-Level Instructional Goal: Nutrition, Healthy Eating Habits

Description:

Fizzy’s Food Truck is an simulation cooking game that is focused on supporting healthy eating habits and providing players with the tools to identify healthy food over greasy food. The game is set up into 6 levels based on the location where the food truck is “selling”: there is a Park, Farm, Forest, City, Pier and Ballpark, designed so that a variety of relatively relatable/familiar places are covered. The food served is mainly black bean burgers, with healthy toppings like lettuce, tomatoes and onions, and the ability to level up to include healthy drinks and

The game starts with a tutorial, which explains a couple healthy eating rules and sets up the story of the game: Professor Fizzy is a chef running a food truck focused on serving healthy food, in direct competition with “Fast Food Freddy”, who is the creator of a greasy food theme park that exists in this “Fizzy’s Lunch Lab” world. He is most featured during tutorials and animations in the game and less so in actual gameplay. There are some other recurring characters, but most of the customers are unique and often dressed up like vegetables or other healthy food.

In order to complete a level, a player has to make enough money to reach the level goal that is set at the beginning. Customers will come up the cashier at random with a specific order, and the player has to create a burger customized to their liking, or else the customer will not accept it. The burger patties take a specific amount of time to cook, and will also burn if you leave them on too long. The player also has to balance drink and a variety of snack order as the levels increase in difficulty. Also, because “Fast Food Freddy” is selling in a similar location, a lot fofo the customers will place their unhealthy food alternative onto the player’s order window as they are waiting for their order, which the player has to click away before serving that customer. The total amount of money is tallied when the time limit is up, but then the cost of wasted food is subtracted from the total in order to calculate profit. Theoretically, a player could serve enough customers to have completed the level, but messed up so many times that they didn’t profit enough to pass. After the six different location levels are completed, a short animation plays that shows a very sad “Fast Food Freddy” standing by his unsuccessful business, and a triumphant professor and his classmates, of which the player is included in.

Some of the things the the Professor will say to the player throughout the game:

Take that freddy! Get that greasy food away! Hey, don’t do that! Put that away! Serving up some good bean burgers! Provide a healthy side!

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Learning Objectives:

As an adult, I definlyt needed very little prior knowledge in order to play this game. I personally have played cooking simulation games before so I was even familiar with the common mechanics, so picking up this game was not challenging. However, all of the games in “Fizzy’s Lunch Lab” are geared towards grade school kids, especially ages 5–9. I can’t speak directly from their perspective, but I think some children wouldn’t have as solidified an understanding of how a grill work and the order of assembling a burger, but that’s definlyt easily learned within the first 30 seconds of play. This game is definitely set up so that a kid can log onto a computer with an adults assistance, and then be able to learn everything needed to play either by intuition or the beginning game tutorial.

Players will definitely learn the basic mechanics of building a black bean burger (once the patty has been prepared already). The player will also pick up how long it takes for each patty to cook on the grill, and how to identify a customer’s order and translate that into something you create and return to them. There is a small amount of math involved, both counting when an order gets more complex, and when figuring out if your progress is strong enough to meet the profit requirement for the level. As the levels get a little harder, the player likely picks up an unconscious understanding of how long it takes for each drink and side to be prepared and use this to wage the order in which they prepare ingredients. Most importantly, players will develop an eye and gut reaction to the greasy and sugary food dubbed “unhealthy” in the game, and learn to click on it any time they see it in order to make it disappear.

Mechanics, Dynamics, & Aesthetics

One strong mechanic that dominates gameplay is this dragging function: almost every final action in the game (giving food to a customer or throwing it away) is achieved through dragging. In this way, the player is forced to follow their healthy food creation across the screen, which i argue creates more of an attachment to it than just sending it off with a click. To contrast this, in order to get rid of the bad and handling greasy food that often pops up on the order window, the player has to click it away. It’s faster and easier to do than dragging, and the contrast in type of interaction draws a bigger distinction between the healthy black bean burger and the unhealthy hamburger.

Because this was developed by PBS Kids, there is of course the large amount of audio feedback and assistance. Fizzy will shout encouraging words at you when you are ready to serve a burger, and will let you know if something burned and advise you to throw away mistakes. Almost every interaction includes a sound effect, which creates a very visceral experience when interacting within the interface.

One dynamic that most strongly influences the player is the time pressure. The time is constantly ticking in the upper left hand corner, and those numbers are always directly compared to the current profit. This comparison creates stress and challenge, which only adds up as more and more customers come to the window with new orders. Because orders increase with complexity, the building complications that add onto the time crunch again dominate the player’s focus. The game is also designed so that when the player is working quickly and being challenged, greasy food options stand as a barrier for completing the already time-pressured tasks, another way to increase this association that unhealthy food is in the way and should always carry a negative connotation.

Because there is a limited amount of places to put certain ingredients and prepare burgers, there is also a space-utilizing/saving dynamic that dominates play. The user has to optimize which tasks make more sense given how long each ingredient takes to prepare, which often means weighing the demands of one customer against another. This requires split-decision making, and gets increasingly more challenging as the game continues and the player levels up.

There is also the dynamic of perfection and not making mistakes. Leaving a patty on for too long creates a mess up that will eat into your profit, and fudging an order leaves you with an upset customer who won’t take the burger, and won’t leave until you fix it. When tallying up the different ingredients, you kind of have to keep a mental tally of how many times you clicked “tomato” or “lettuce”, because the way the game represents graphics is unclear and makes it challenging for you to check how much you clicked. While playing, I notice I am more aware of how much I move my mouse and how much I click, as precision is crucial to succeeding. This emphasis on correctness feels a little misaligned with the goals of the game, which I discuss later in the analysis.

The aesthetics of this game center on precision, as well as a feeling of “fighting the good fight.” The player is working for a Professor who is charmingly scatterer brained but passionate about healthy food, and the customers the player is serving are literally frightened by the greasy competitive hamburger vender outside your stand. You are put into this position of saving people from poor eating decisions by providing them with the healthy food that they are already ordering, enforcing this idea that healthy eating is a norm that unhealthy vendors are trying to disrupt. As mentioned in mechanics, this aesthetic is also achieved by the different in interactions between serving customers healthy food and getting rid of the bad food. Clicking to dismiss, versus dragging to serve, fosters a stronger positive relationship to the healthy bean burger. This interaction, paired with the change in artistic styles used to illustrate the healthy vs unhealthy food, add to the transferable knowledge mentioned above.

Learning Principles:

Fizzy’s Food Truck integrates immediate feedback timing well: When the player creates an order incorrectly, the customer will immediately frown and shake their head, and the action is prevented from completion. This enforces that dynamic of precision dn perfection, as players receive immediate feedback on their performance and thus have to adjust their gameplay as quickly as possible in order to fix their mistakes. This learning principle, paired with the time pressure, makes training the user to create perfect black bean burgers effective. However, the immediate feedback timing is not integrated into any direct way of teaching players about healthy food: it is mainly focused on correct building of fictional burgers.

Anchored learning is probably the most prominent learning principle. Aside from the customers being dressed up as veggies, which is odd but maybe still believable, all of the elements in the game are cartoonized versions of the actual world. The ability of the player to translate what they learn within the game universe to the outside world is increased because it’s set in believable places: parks, forests, ballparks, etc. Additionally, all of the food used in the game, both healthy and unhealthy, are actual things portioned in actual serving sizes, making meal portions a teaching moment for grade school kids as well as an element of play. Although the interface for creating burgers is a little far from realistic since the ingredients are set in buttons around the screen, the order and timing of the stove and condiment interactions are relatively accurate to actual burger making, giving players a concrete example of healthy food preparation that they can ideally take with them into the real world.

Lastly, temporal contiguity is another big factor in the experience of the game. As mentioned before, nearly every interaction in the game comes with a sound effect, which gets the player to engage a little more with some of the outlying features and adds a nice viceral touch to play. But importantly, there is the Professor’s voice guiding the user in the background. He speaks up when players burn things and he encourages the distinction between healthy and greasy food. When I first started playing and saw that he was talking along through the game, I immediately thought he would act as a sort of helpful soundtrack that would sometimes aid in play if a lot of time passed without activity. Instead, he speaks up in tandem with actions like clicking out bad food and putting on healthy condiments, enforcing this idea that the player is “fighting the good fight” for healthy food.

Synthesis and Critique:

Fizzy’s Food Truck is a decent educational game. Nested within the Fizzy’s Lunch Lab world, which is under the overarching PBS Kids Games section of the site, I think it serves it’s purpose as an extension of these nutritional education characters and provides a fun, challenging way for grade school kids to enter the world of food preparation and ingredient awareness. This main learning objective of identifying healthy food and understanding it’s preparation is enforced by adding a time crunch element that increases the challenge, and the game is approachable for people of all ages because of it’s easy-to-understand setting and mechanics. Because it is designed for a much younger audience than myself, the assisted audio that I find a little obnoxious probably works well as support for understanding this distinction between healthy food and unhealthy food. The game is also very friendly and warm, and although the time crunch adds some stakes that could turn the mood a little negative, the style of drawing keeps most interactions and scenes upbeat and positive. This is turn translates to a positive perspective on serving healthy food, and places the player in the dead center of this ideology.

I think this game does a good job creating this distinction between healthy food and unhealthy food, especially as far as creating “norms” about what food should look like and where unhealthy food may lie. I appreciate that the player has some decision-making power because I think it demonstrates to kids that they have a decision to eat healthy food, but since they are positioned as a vendor they are immediately conditioned to choose it. I do think that because the game has such a strong emphasis on precision and correctness, the goal of healthy eating is sometime lost in the really technical parts of the game. I think that the time crunch and ordering complications that often hinder players from reaching their profit goal are not super related to the healthy food options. I see that there is an argument that players will play this more technical piece of the game as part of the overall campaign to serve healthy food over greasy, but I think that healthy ingredient identification could be pushed a little more into the experience.

Written by

Designer. Currently at Asana, previously at Khan Academy. Language + Data + Digital + Print.

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