Educational Gaming Must Move Beyond Parlor Tricks

Tom has been gracious enough to let me back in the door to blog my experience at the Gaming + Learning + Society conference this week.


Have you played Passage yet?  If you have 5 minutes, it is worth downloading and playing it through once.  It will give a little context to this reflection and you will avoid all spoilers below.

Passage caused a flurry of chatter a year an a half ago.  Jason Rohrer, the creator, wanted to make a simple game that simulated the span of life and illustrated how the choices we make effect that timeline.  In the game, there is no real goal.  Sure, you are collecting points for various activities and choices (trying not to spoil the experience for those of you who have not played it yet), but, in the end, the point of the game is the experience itself.  Not the score.  It has been hailed as the first video game to bring the player to tears.  The power of the play is multiplied when you look at the simple, classic design of the game.

After playing through Passage a couple more times, I began to realize that this brilliant game was the direction gaming in education needs to move.  We need to move away from the perception that educational games teach the elements on the periodic table or how to conjugate verbs in Spanish.  Gaming has the potential to give students a medium to explore complex problems that lack black and white answers.  Rohrer is a strong proponent of open environments that allow for multiple “right” answers for the challenges of a game.  In a non-linear game like this, the value is in the discussions between players about why they made certain choices.

I am hopeful that my next few days in Madison will yield some amazing food for thought as I begin building a few games next year with a small group of teachers.

Interviews with Jason Rohrer

Comments on this post

  1. D'Arcy Norman said on June 9, 2009 at 4:55 pm

    Interesting, and I agree. Isn’t that what educational games like Sim City and Spore do – they provide a sandbox environment for people to explore and experiment, while providing feedback and tools? I find that kind of game far more educational than the silly Mario-clones that were created to explore “educational gaming”

    • Tom said on June 11, 2009 at 2:07 pm

      I’m just waiting to gather enough steam to try an educational ARG. That blend of chaos and guidance, reality and game is so tempting to me.

  2. Alistair Owens said on June 10, 2009 at 6:39 am

    Educational games that are seen to be fun will always win the day. The trick is to embed the learning content in away that is subliminal. The games developers need to be co-opted to design a game with street cred that also incorporates the periodic table as a code kids have to break.
    It’s is all about learning in disguise to break through the “text book” dull content.

    Alistair Owens

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