Friday, February 23, 2007

Lessons from the Online Games Industry

In what ranks for me as one of the best Convergence Conversations we’ve had till date, episode X wandered through the world of games, stories, design and ludic, liminal and learning experiences, in the short span of an hour and a half.

The first obvious stream of discussion worth touching upon is the interfaces and overlaps between learning applications and games. Games can be specifically designed with learning experiences in mind. Lets call this explicit learning through games. These are objective driven, and their effectiveness can be measured by the learning results they do or do not deliver. You know, a game with falling letters which trains you to type better without looking at the keyboard.

The second and potentially more powerful learning is that which occurs implicitly through games. This isn’t measurable, often because these games weren’t created as learning tools. We’re talking about learning social processes by participating in tribal games – such as World of Warcraft. The kind of things families were once supposed to imbibe – belonging, pulling your weight, doing the dirty work when necessary, participating in team decisions. These are important lessons that can actually be learnt from games. At the other end motor skills, cognitive skills or other spatial and social skills can continuously be enhanced as a bye product of games. The question here, perhaps, is how to harness them.

Which off course suggests that there is actually a valuable social benefit to be derived from games, contrary to what Boris Johnson would have us believe, when he said “Its time to garrotte the game boy and paralyze the playstation and it is about time, as a society, that we admitted the catastrophic effect these blasted gizmos are having on the literacy and prospects of young males. They become like blinking lizards, motionless, absorbed, only the twitching of their hands showing their still conscious” In actual fact even parents are noticing that their children are developing and growing through experiences in games which prepare them for working in groups and with other people in work situations.

Clearly a lot depends on the game design and architecture. This is an conscious decision by skilled people. It was commonly felt that games designers are terrible storytellers. Of course, it may well be argued that writers aren’t the best at designing compelling interfaces. But the ARG format appears to be one of the most powerful – primarily because of its flexibility – it uses each medium to its best use, rather than force all the experience onto one medium. A tendency to only talk about Second Life is natural, but Second Life still has many limitations especially in it’s interface. The ability to mix real life with online experience is clearly a powerful stimulant for users. Although the ARG’s like other games face the challenge of scaling to millions, rather than thousands.

still to come... state of development, the secret of the experience, and more...


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