Tuesday, May 10, 2005

Righteous Game Development

Ian Bogost of Water Cooler Games blogged earlier this week about Armchair Games, a set of extremely simple games used as an advertising tool for a big screen television. (Example... use your left and right keys to make a guy run to the bathroom... ready, go... 8 seconds... new record!... email us your information and we'll put you in the running to win the prize).

After a difficult day of trying to design an entertaining game that teaches the difference between the independent variable and the dependent variable (we're going with monkeys... can't go wrong with monkeys), it is dissappointing to see such a simple game online. This isn't a game, really... I mean, sure, it may meet some of the standards of what a game is (see a great review of Malone and other's research on this at http://www.nestafuturelab.org/research/discuss/02discuss01.htm... but shouldn't a game player want to be engaged for more than 8 seconds for it to really count? In truth, this is data harvesting with a game fa├žade. "Hmmm... they may just not voluntarily give us their name and email address for us to send them unsolicited emails... maybe we can convince them they have won something." Shouldn't a game do more than this?

Are we any better in education? Part of our frustration today was designing a game that kept our game player engaged in a game long enough to learn something, without her feeling that she was being punished at some point in our game by learning. Really, we want to develop games that are so compelling, the player will continue despite learning something. Do we use games to get the user's attention and then slip them some kind of knowledge? What do we owe our learners when we call something a game? Must it have all components of a game... or are we simply tricking them into giving us their attention by calling something a game?


At 1:11 PM, Blogger CC said...

I think the problem is that we're approaching the game design in such a way that we assume learning is not fun. But the truth of the matter is that learning is fun - it's just that years of morbidly staring at chalkboards full of chicken scratch and listening to corpse-like lecturers drone hypnotically on and on has convinced us otherwise.

But whenever you play a game, you're learning. You may not be learning anything applicable to the "real world," because you're learning the patterns the aliens come down in, tricks for finding hidden powerups, how the enemy AI works, etc., but it's still learning. And when there's nothing else to learn in a game, that's when you become bored with it, and move on to the next game.

So the problem isn't so much that we are asking the kids to learn something, but that we're asking them to learn about real-world topics when they don't connect with the gameplay. This causes cognitive dissonance, where they're bumped out of the game world and back into their own world. Presumably, if they wanted to stay in their own world and not the game world, they wouldn't be playing the game in the first place. Thus, the feeling that educational games aren't as fun as "real" games which keep the focus on the fictional game world.

If the educational content can be intrinsically tied to the game world, then that dissonance subsides, but then the problem becomes that the game world must then approximate the mundane world that you play games to escape. So you end up with a balancing act between making the educational content relevant in the game world, and making the game world fresh and exciting. Too far in either direction, and you end up with "boring."


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