I have been playing a great puzzle game in the past year, EnLIGHTen by Richard Terrell. The aim of the game is to obtain enlightenment and mastery through a series of lessons, quizzes, puzzles, and challenges. I reached those two goals, and I wanted to share my thoughts on my experience.
EnLIGHTen is currently in a free beta. Find out more here: http://designoriented.net/enlightengame
At its core, EnLIGHTen’s gameplay is based on the “Lights Out” puzzle game. The game consists of a 5 by 5 grid of lights where pressing any of the lights will toggle it and the adjacent lights off or on. The goal is simply to clear out the grid.
Other than the puzzle gameplay, enLIGHTen offers various tools to explore the design space: a notes system, graphs, data to visualise your progress, and tools to assist your journey to mastering the game. The game does not force you to progress in a linear way. Instead, it is limited to providing feedback on whatever you do. With this freedom, It is highly probable that you will reach a roadblock, as I did, and this is a key part of the experience.
The learning approach of most people is not malleable; rarely adapt to explore new possibilities. Players are more likely to keep trying with the same approach over and over again because this works in many other games. But effort alone won’t get to reach mastery or enlightenment.
To reach mastery, You need to be able to not only dissect the puzzle grids on the screen, but also your feelings, thoughts, actions, and methods. The built-in note-taking system and the scratch paper-like explore mode are two important features there to help you with this.
The biggest obstacle is your learning habits. And the only way around this obstacle is to consciously and intentionally improve your learning habits.
As the developer states in the in-game lectures:
“Everyone uses the same basic learning approach for all life experiences. And with the same approach comes the same limitations, habits, and pitfalls. By taking enLIGHTen seriously, players will be able to gain valuable insight into how they learn, which should be applicable to most areas of life.” — Richard Terrell
Self Reflection: Recognising your shortcomings, why your approach is failing, what are the limiting factors of your approach that hold you back, and what are the methods and principles that work for you is the main way to get better. And going through this process of improvement is the goal and the biggest takeaways of enLIGHTen from playing this game.
But let’s take a step back to walk through the basic gameplay experience.
Phase 1: Unlock Modes
When first launching enLIGHTen, you won’t see all the available modes and tools as shown in the picture [above]. Even though you will be free to approach the game as you like, there is a bit of guidance at the beginning like most good games and learning experiences.
All players start with the Lecture Hall mode where listening to short lectures will unlock you the rest of the game’s modes and features.
In phase 1, enLIGHTen is structured to encourage you to go back and forth between the lectures and puzzle-solving. First, you learn about learning from the lectures. Then you solve puzzles of increasing complexity. Completing the lessons will unlock tools, modes, and features which will, in turn, help you solve more puzzles. The more puzzles you solve the more lectures you unlock.
As I said, in puzzle mode the goal is simple: clear a 5×5 grid of lights by turning each cell light off. The one wrinkle is, that every cell clicked influences the 4 adjacent squares. Nothing too complex, right?
The puzzles may seem too simple at first. Most experienced puzzle gamers will breeze through the first 6 rings of puzzles (see picture below).
For additional challenges, you can aim for Perfect Clears (solving in the least amount of clicks) or Blind Clears (solving the puzzle in the dark where the lights are not shown). Of course, doing perfect and blind clears will increase your score towards enlightenment and mastery (more on this later).
At a certain point, you will likely get stuck on more complicated puzzles. Chances are the method you used to coast through the early part of the game will stop working.
Being unable to solve the harder puzzles in the Puzzle mode is one thing. Your confidence may utterly fall apart if you attempt the challenges in the Daily Challenge mode. This model contains five unique 3-minute challenges that are hard if you go in without a strategy. A trial and error approach won’t suffice.
At this point in the game, you will likely have doubts about how to proceed or improve. Freedom comes at a cost. If simply trying over and over doesn’t produce results, then what can be done? This is when you will have entered…
Phase 2: Unlocking the Mind
The big question is “what can be done?” But the real question is, do you already know what you need to do? Are you really thinking about the lessons in the lectures? Are you using all the tools you unlocked? Have you really spent time in the modes you have available? And if you are wondering how much you should do these things, enLIGHTen has a solution built-in.
enLIGHTen gives you a variety of feedback to help you understand what you should focus on. For example, you might be “forced” to take notes if you don’t complete a puzzle fast enough. The game assumes the solving took longer for a legitimate reason and tries to get you to realize the reason too. The Records mode displays charts, stats, and graphs to help you pinpoint what brings you the most success over time.
Let’s fix one problem at a time. The steps I took to improve my learning method are:
- Understand better how learning works.
- Apply learning theories from the lessons.
- Take more notes, reflect on them, and try to perfect and blind clear puzzles in Puzzle mode.
- Make connections between puzzles and notes by using the Explore mode.
- Create methods to solve puzzles with things in common.
- Do Daily Challenges daily.
The designer proposes an interesting learning model called CPTM (Curiosity, Perception, Thoughts, and Heuristic/Method).
As you can see in the picture each component is laid out in a linear progression. The triangle symbol functions like the food pyramid, which indicates the relative amount of each element you should have for a healthy balance.
Curiosity and Perception
It all starts with a copious amount of curiosity, the drive that moves things forward and sparks our learning journey. We need to be intrinsically motivated to gain the most from our efforts. I wanted to reach enLIGHTenment and mastery because I knew doing so would improve my general learning habits in life. That was my intrinsic motivation. When curiosity is not enough we can use other kinds of drives like self-control, balance, discipline, and goal setting. For example, I was very curious about the “secrets” of learning when I first played this game. After a while, I needed to schedule sessions, write down a plan to succeed, and so on, to keep progressing.
An important foundation to understand motivation is the Self-Determination Theory, which states that humans are more motivated when an activity fulfils a sense of competence (learn and grow), autonomy (volition and willpower), and relatedness (social). The last one, in particular, was important to me. Being part of the Design Oriented community (a discord server led by Richard Terrel) gave me the opportunity to share my successes, failures, and doubts, about enLIGHTen and other areas of learning.
Perception is how we gather external information through our senses. It is important when learning to engage with more senses. The more sensory stimulation, the more you’ll perceive and think in response to the experience.
Thoughts, Heuristics, and Methods
From what we perceive we then generate thoughts (questions, comments, etc.). Finally, heuristics and methods are composed of thoughts and derived from processing thoughts. We process our thoughts by reflecting on them, making groups for them, finding patterns, chunking data, and much more.
Generating useful heuristics and methods can be considered the most important goal of the learning process. A single method can be the result of processing hundreds or thousands of individual thoughts. They are powerful tools that help us think faster, better, and more efficiently.
Heuristics and methods are essentially concentrated thoughts that take up less space. This process is called “chunking” and it works because our working (short-term) memory can only store 5 to 9 bits of information at one time. When you can hold a heuristic or method group of information, it takes up the space of one bit no matter how complex it is. Using a heuristic or method frees up space so we can use the remaining “power” to process new information or to make conclusions [see image above].
Another important thing to consider when improving your learning habits is time. We need time to transfer thoughts from short-term memory into long-term memory. We need to also consider the “tempo of learning”. People tend to do too much and act too fast when learning. The key is to process and perceive at a slow enough rate to actually generate clear thoughts and process them as you go along. There’s no point in racing through learning experiences if it’s not going to stick in your mind. I learned to practice slowly, do Daily Challenge drilling, explore passages, reflect on best practices, and converse with other experienced players (it’s better if they’re more experienced than you).
Towards EnLIGHTenment and Mastery
The lectures touch on other topics including perspectives on memory and learning, but I will not spoil them for you. Instead, I will focus on what is required to reach enlightenment and mastery, and what I did to achieve them.
My (Master Level) Advice
As I wrote previously, enLIGHTen tracks everything you do. You are awarded points that build up to achieving enLIGHTenment and mastery as you play. Doing a bit of everything (lessons, quizzes, puzzles, blind clears) will help you build points. These points aren’t arbitrary. They are awarded for specific actions that actually help you learn or proved that you’ve learned. These points have a limit too.
Using the points as a guide, you will essentially be required to memorize puzzle examples and their solutions. Memorization is not required, but it’s clear how much it helps. You can see your scores jump up in the graphs when you memorize more.
While in Puzzle and Explore mode, enLIGHTen supplies you with Tools to help you learn. For example, the Click Keeper Tool displays all the cells in the puzzle grid that you’ve clicked on. The Relevant Notes Tool pulls up any note that’s relevant to the current puzzle grid state. And the Hidden Shapes Tool scans the puzzle grid and lists all the shapes that are in the puzzle grid even if they’re hidden and obscured by other lights. To improve at enLIGHTen you must use the game tools. I, in particular, used the hidden shape tool (essential) and the click keeper. These tools helped me break free of my bad habit of seeing and clicking in my default method.
Gridchard is the digital avatar guide for your enLIGHTen journey. It presents tutorials, tells stories, and even hangs out while you play Puzzle mode to offer advice. Don’t forget to engage with Gridchard. He may seem annoying, but he’s really there to help you break free. One of my favourite Gridchard conversations involved him “kindly” reminding me that I was keeping returning to the same pattern over and over again. How frustrating, but he was right; I was so stubborn and in need to be reminded to take a different approach.
Every puzzle in Puzzle mode has a name. This is common in many puzzle video games. But what enLIGHTen does takes it a step further. You can rename puzzle shapes! This may seem trivial, but renaming engages the mind more while adding a personal touch. These things are proven to help information stick better in your head. One of my favourite renames is “Pomello” which is an Italian word for a knob. The shape of the puzzle reminded me of that.
Take all kinds of specific and detailed notes. Use hashtags to make groups or observations just like you would using Twitter. Later, view and analyze your notes in My Thoughts mode. Here you can see how puzzles are related to each other. Look also at your question notes and bring your doubts into Explore Mode. The game makes it easy to go from note review to experimentation. There is a button on every note that directly opens the gameplay snapshot into Explore Mode.
EnLIGHTen players often express that they didn’t know what to take notes on or how to take “good” notes. I’ve found that I naturally had questions. It was up to me to actually write them down in a note and seek answers later. Some natural questions include…What are the methods and heuristics when solving a symmetrical puzzle? What about asymmetrical ones? If the lights are separated, what’s another way I can try to solve it?
My advice seems pretty simple: use everything the game provides. Engage with all your senses, understand what works and doesn’t for you, and consciously address your learning methods to succeed. All of this will substantially help you on your path to enlightenment.
Daily Challenge Mode
You won’t reach either enlightenment or mastery by avoiding the Daily Challenge mode. These challenges provide the bulk of the points for proving your mastery. So, practice each challenge every time you can.
Each daily challenge is there for a purpose. Each tests specific aspects of the game and of learning in general. Each challenge contains 10 puzzles of increasing difficulty, some featuring specific rules and constraints.
Daily 1 is all about solving randomly generated puzzles. It is here that your heuristics and methods are tested. After all, you cannot memorize the solution to a puzzle you’ve never seen before. If you follow my advice you will do well in this challenge. However, getting a score of 85+ is no joke (and necessary to reach enlightenment/mastery).
The purpose of daily 1 is to let you develop your problem-solving skills (think out of the box), ability to create and follow heuristics (mastery), and your skill to see through what is in front of view discovering all the underlying details (eye – enlightenment).
Daily 2 was the most difficult one for me and the last one I “mastered”. This challenge takes a puzzle from Puzzle Mode and scrambles it lightly by adding some random clicks. It’s your job to undo the scramble. One useful technique I used was to tilt my head at different angles so I could see the puzzles from other perspectives. Sometimes, this triggered the missing pattern to “appear” in my mind-eye. Remember you can review all the daily challenge levels afterwards to take notes.
The purpose of daily 2 is to enhance your mind-eye (ability to visualise steps ahead and solutions; eye – enlightenment) and your Cardinal Understanding: directional understanding; a measure of how well one has learned a subject… forwards & backwards (in order and out of order), up & down (various degrees of heuristical generalizations), and in & out (the ability to demonstrate or explain concepts with and without the specific tools, language, or knowledgeable audience).
Challenge 3, drills you on your most missed levels or underused shapes from Puzzle mode. This effectively trains your weakest memories (mastery). Blind clearing Puzzle mode was an effective way to review puzzles and improve my memory in general, two things that improved my score in this challenge. I see daily 3 as support for the other challenges. If you can’t do well at daily 3, you won’t do well with the others. It’s a good thing I found daily 3 to be the easiest Daily Challenge.
This daily challenge focuses specifically on training your backward skills (cardinal understanding). Indeed, the goal is to create a specific puzzle from scratch. Instead of removing lights, you will be adding them. Daily 4 builds on your knowledge of solutions and your ability to reverse engineering your understanding.
Finally, challenge 5 builds on top of challenges 3 and 4 by asking you not only to remember puzzle solutions backwards and forwards but also to combine these skills. Daily 5 challenges you to morph one puzzle shape into another without solving it. Additionally, you are not allowed to reduce the puzzle on the screen to one that is 3 steps away from a solution. It seems harder than it really is. Indeed, if you continue to keep good notes, train to memorize solutions, and add this challenge to your routine training also in explore mode, you will do fine eventually. This challenge trains your eye (enlightenment) and cardinal understanding (mastery).
If you are able to get a score of 85+ multiple times on each Daily Challenge, that alone will get you very close to both enlightenment and mastery. What would be left are extra notes, answering key questions and other small tasks that you probably have done already.
Conclusion and Takeaways
Enlightenment has opened my mind to my shortcomings and habits that have held me back while learning. I now understand that memorization and good notes are essential and that a constant revision of the materials is necessary. Moreover, going over my notes and trying to improve them by using clustering and connections between them is very beneficial. From good notes comes good heuristics and eventually some methods which are the reflection of your thoughts, process, and observation.
Studying only the test material as presented has not gotten me very far in the past. For example, I changed my approach with last year’s modules at university. I used google sheets for taking more notes (with tags), I made connections between concepts, and I practised more slowly to avoid burnout and exhaustion. In the end, I was able to recall more information and memorize them in less time. Indeed, another learned lesson from my experience playing enLIGHTen is to take a step back from the test material and practice deliberately. Deliberate practice can include challenging my own knowledge from multiple angles (cardinal understanding) and with all my senses (enlightenment).
enLIGHTen is really good at letting you process all of this while silently guiding you through this journey. Of course, it is not perfect but with some improvements, especially in the lectures and notes/method system, enLIGHTen will become a great game/application to be used in other contexts other than this puzzle game.
Right now, I am trying to simulate some of the tools from enLIGHTen in a spreadsheet, recording all my notes and tagging them accordingly. I wish I had the enLIGHTen tools for anything I want to learn in life.