Friday, October 10, 2003

Game as Thinking Environment

It may be obvious that games and simulations don't have to be historically or statistically "accurate" to help you learn. But in the context of games in education, this issue is sticky. A student might learn a lot about the fictional world of Vvardenfell by playing Morrowmind -- maybe even some transferable learning about complex systems and different types of cause and effect -- but is that type of learning going to be valued by the average Grade 9 geography teacher?

Gonzalo, the creator of the simple and clever September 12th Shockwave game/simulation, has been saying some interesting things about how simulations can be used to intentionally stimulate critical thinking, while acknowledging that bias is both a limitation and a trigger for thought. I like the honest response to a fair question: Are your games biased?
"Of course they are. We do not believe in objective journalism. We prefer games that encourage critical thinking, even if the player disagrees with our games’ ideas."
On the seriousgames listserv, he goes further down this road. It recalls some of Stephen's analogy comparing traditional education to a scripted theatrical production (students are "actors" following the curriculum/script) and real learning to be more like the free-form exploration of a game (learning environment). Gonzalo has obviously done more thinking about this than I, so I'll let him explain:
"My main goal is this to be an object-to-think-with, a small system (anthill, playground, laboratory) for experimenting, elaborating hypothesis and contesting assumptions. From the start, I knew that it was going to be taken differently by different players but that is just part of this trade. The author of simulations needs to trust more her players than, say, the novelist or filmmaker. It is the difference between designing a story, which is open to interpretation but quite constrained, and a toy. At this point in my life, I am convinced that creating a good toy is a far more difficult (and appealing) task than storytelling."

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