Sugarlawn and Critical Thinking

As most readers of this post probably know, Sugarlawn by Mike Spivey is an entry in the 2019 Fall IF Comp. The game is getting lots of positive attention from readers, and, in my own sampling of it so far, the story seems appropriate for kids and potentially useful for teachers.

So, is Sugarlawn the ideal work of IF for the classroom? If you’re looking for a story-centered piece, maybe not. Bur, if your emphases are mainly problem solving and critical thinking, it comes pretty close.

Unlike most contemporary IF, Sugarlawn requires making a map and control of inventory. Teachers of critical thinking often like to stress the expression (or restating) of problems with visual ways, like maps. Such teachers also like students to consider the allocation of resources in problem-solving, and inventory space makes a good example of a resource.

Of course, just by look at some older IF games, a teacher can easily find lots of other works of IF that require mapping and inventory management. However, not many of these are as absorbing as Sugarlawn , and not many allow both a fairly quick initial runthrough of the story, and, for those teachers who have the requisite time and inclination, a much longer series of playthroughs, as the players optimize their procedures, thus practicing the careful use of resources, including time.

What think you? Is Sugarlawn likely to become a classroom staple? Are there other stories in the comp that teachers should be considering?


When we did our playthrough of Sugarlawn at the Seattle IF meeting in October, it became clear the Mike’s background in mathematical optimization strongly influenced Sugarlawn’s design. It is, at its core, a complex optimization problem. This led to a group discussion of whether it is possible to write a computer program that could solve Sugarlawn with the highest prize payout, and how that program might be designed. So, it appears that Sugarlawn is already being used as an educational tool :slight_smile:.

As far as other games, I have noticed there are quite a few puzzle-intense entries this year. I haven’t played them all yet, but based on the discussions I have read, Language Arts and Flight of the CodeMonkeys might be contenders for educational tools as well.