Friday, November 03, 2006

Eric Zimmerman on Forget Serious Games!

Serious Games challenging us to play a better future


Via: Spotlight - Blogging the field of Digital Media and Learning
Eric Zimmerman, in his recent post "Forget Serious Games", addresses an issue I had previously explored in my September post "Gaming Is All About Fun" He states that all too often, those who investigate and create serious games operate from a limited notion of what games can be.
Quoting his great article:

"A game doesn’t need to be explicitly educational in order to be a positive learning experience. Every good game in some way teaches literacy and learning, sometimes by encouraging what seems like the worst behavior in players.

Too many serious games researchers focus on the explicitly curricular, data-measurable aspects of games and learning. One problem with these approaches is that they excise the play from the game. Play is messy, unpredictable, and hard to measure. But it needs to be at the center of any inquiry into games and learning.


Games are best at teaching processes, not at injecting data into players. By letting players experiment with the behavior of systems, games provide contexts where players can play with ideas and information, seeing how relationships emerge and change over time.

This kind of learning is harder to track and measure, particularly under the rubric of No Child Left Behind and the quantitative turn in federal research funding. Is the best player the one that completes a game level most quickly and most correctly? Or is it the player that drives his car off the track to explore the world, or the player that hacks into the game to change what her character looks like and how she can play?

Cultural norms of what constitutes proper play are also at work here. In The Ambiguity of Play, Brian Sutton-Smith identifies several “rhetorics of play” - how play is discussed and conceived in culture. The idea of play as progress, that play is only valuable if it evolves children into better adults, is the dominant rhetoric of our time. Yet other rhetorics exist, such as the idea of play as a transgressive activity that can play with and refashion social structures.

What are the forms of games and learning that would embody such alternative models of play? Good question. Let’s expand our models of serious games so that they can do justice to the rich phenomena of games and play."