Manufactoria is an online puzzle game, which is deceptively simple and surprisingly deep. Your task is to build a factory machine from simple components which takes an object, inspects it and moves it around the factory floor accordingly. In later stages, you get to modify the object as well.
At first you think you’re just moving objects around and printing patterns of coloured dots on them, but later, when you’re thinking of blue dots as 1s and red dots as 0s, and the patterns as binary numbers, you realise that the system is Turing complete and the game’s progressively harder puzzles are teaching you how to build a binary adding machine. It’s a beautiful, powerful way to demonstrate the principles behind mechanical/electronic computation.
While some games, like Angry Birds and Candy Crush, are meant to numb your brain with repetitive tasks, the best ones expand your brain with new skills and knowledge: Manufactoria is in the latter class.
I had a sudden epiphany last night and realised the best way to explain India to 30-something computer-gaming geeks.
You know that massive empire you acquired by military conquest in Civilization 3? And then converted to democracy, thinking it’d become an economic powerhouse? But you couldn’t achieve anything useful because every city was mired in 90% corruption? And the only reason you weren’t facing all-out revolt was because you had temples everywhere, keeping the populace distracted enough to stay quiet?
If someone lets you use their computer, and it needs some updates installing – assuming the owner isn’t there to ask – should you do it?
On the one hand, it’s none of your business. It’s their computer, their responsibility to update it. Just say “no” to the pop-ups and continue checking your email. Maybe they know what they’re doing, and have actively chosen not to run the updates: they prefer the version of the program they’re currently running, for example, and are holding off from upgrading to the latest one.
On the other hand, perhaps like most computer users they’re just hopelessly technologically illiterate and don’t realise they’re supposed to say “OK” to all some of the pop-ups that appear every time they boot up. And what if some of the updates are urgent security patches? Without them, the machine could be hacked, infected, recruited into a botnet and used to attack other systems. Like a child without a measles vaccination, increasing the risk of epidemic in the wider population, every second this computer isn’t updated puts every other computer in the world at greater risk. It’s not just acceptable, it’s your duty to update.