SXSW – What can we learn from games

Experts from three different (bit connected) industries talk about game design, learning theories, collective intelligence, transmedia entertainment, and the value of play in a participatory culture.
Henry Jenkins Co-Dir CMS, MIT
James Gee Mary Lou Fulton Presidential Professor of Literacy Studies, Arizona State University
Warren Spector GM Creative Dir, Junction Point – Disney Interactive Studios

  • JG: my 6yo got me into games. I realised that I had never learnt anything that new for 30ys. I realised that games use learning as a gateway drug.   I write books about it and why I play games.
  • HJ: at MIT, going to USC in Sept. Blog etc. I’ve been part of Education Arcade, how they put into practice educational value of games.  Alos workign with Macarthur foundation, looking at learning.
  • WS: believe I’m the oldest still making games. Started in 70s, did Advanced Dungeons and Dragons. Worked at Origin.
  • HJ: worked with son, on the Sims, who had to manage his budget.   His son bought all the big ticket items, not about doing plumbing and eating. It applied to his life and he ‘got it’
  • JG: the Sims is often looked down on. but it brings a lot. The Sims players often give challenges..eg simulate what it is to grow up poor.  The game itself is not too good at this, it lead to thinking about how the game was put together.  It is digital, thinking about the world, thinking about how the simulation works
  • WS: games are good at problem solving, how to think about things, how to solve issues
  • JG: you discover think about yourself as a learner. When I started I tried the same thing 300 times until 6yo suggested I try something else.
  • WS: I’ve been making games that are about problems not just puzzles. We had to train players…to be able to make choices and solve problems  In video game sit is infrequent that we ask people to think There is this movement now of getting players to think.
  • HJ; we are learning to depend on others for advice and gaming, though the networks etc.  Schools only recognise only autonomous problem solvers, any kind of collaboration is seen as cheating, there is a different style of learning through the games
  • JG: the Sims example show emotional intelligence and a social intelligence.
  • HJ: the Lure of the Labyrinth is a game we are developing.  We set it up so that kids have to communicate to others about solving the problems, It is abut strategies of solving problems not the answers they have to share.
  • JG: so many games are saying you have to be designing part of it,
  • WS: I’m a little of a luddite, a little more into a traditional narrative and how it combines with gameplay. I’m willing to give up control of gameplay but not the narrative.  There is a thriving community of Spore players, making stories etc.  The most wonderful experiences for me, about the last games I did, if you look at forums, the conversation is different about hwo they talk about my games. It is not about saving puzzles, it is about the narrative, how could you have killed this guy, how could you have done this thing.  A community came to me, at a conference, we went to the bar….and some of the guys started an argument about the a game..it was about politics and ideology, that is the power of interactive narrative it is is about letting you behave one way and seeing how it plays out.
  • JG: narrative acts in many different ways in games.  Doesn’t the narrative in the game have to fit in the gameplay, it can’t just be an addon.  Look at Braid, it has a weird story and a weird gameplay, making people think about how thay match. It’s just a 2d gameplay….there’s a lot of theories about the story.
  • WS: it’s a very lets deconstruct the medium approach, it is very off-putting.   Games are about what you do, so it has to be about the mechanics.
  • HJ: the games come out of a school of theory, people who had gone to game school. You had the same with film, a group of people who had the same language, You are going to get the same in games, designers who are schooled in the theory and can talk the same ideas and the audience who understands this and is seeking content out and can educate themselves.
  • JG:you can have a good story, but the player is in the middle of it. These themes can float around, you see pieces of it, you see bits at ta time. The player can take the themes and make something of it (Deus Ex)
  • WS: with Deus Ex i tried to make the most accessible mainstream game (it failed though). It gave you the chance to try different ways to solve problems. Pick the way you want to play it. I also let you ignore the story if you wanted it.  Games are work and I wanted to disguise this fact, masking the work is something that games to really well. There is a world  work out there that happens online, or just doing your taxes; a more gamelike account could help ease past the work
  • HJ: teachers don’t always recognise the work in a games.  The key word is engagement when it comes to games. A good game makes us engage in a task that may be frustrating and long and boring but will keep involved.
  • JG: when the initial work on Flow, it was about work, the flow state, to make it more engaging.
  • WS: we take things that in other times would be boring and hard and we make them fun.  Some games have control schemes that are more complex than Turbotax -we should be able to make these fun. Find a way to apply game paradigms to real world of work
  • HJ: games to a spectacular job of introducing complexity, spreadsheets etc.   Teachers have not yet caught up this.
  • JG: you play some of these games, pore over the graphs of the results and plan the next strategy. This is valuable skill.
  • WS: this is what the tabletop games do well, give you a framework to build things and learn about stuff. I learnt about medieval Japan, how to run a castle, WWII espionage.
  • JG: you see something as a system and how the systems interact, it teaches you about science and thinking about systems
  • WS: I agree, and I look at most games..they show the world as a system but often a simple system that could mislead you. So thanks that Will Wright exists that show you simple solutions can be a bad thing,
  • HJ: research shows that kids learn a lot of things from games, but don’t look at the game structure.  We have to couple gamespace learning and media literacy. Learnign this, thinking critically, gets people to be able to design themselves etc
  • WS: most of peers believe their work is ideological pure, that they are not defining a world view but this is wrong.
  • HJ: as an artist you have to have a world view…we may not be preparing kids adequately for the Apocalyse but we should be making them thinking about stuff!
  • JG: there’s a whole space their to connect at an emotional level.
  • WS: we have an indi game industry, with skills and distribution etc all that helps. This is great..
  • JG: serious games have not taken off with a speed that was hoped.  Niche games, such as Flower etc, have taken off, I don’t think serious games have been good enough.
  • WS: one thing that games can do well is teach process.  That is not what games do fundamentally. But serious games have tried too much for process and not fun
  • JG: what is good about the games is the engagement, the ability to make choices et. Game designers are trying to model the system, and that is what scientists are doing. We have wrong education theories and that is why we make bad games.
  • Q: What thoughts about how games can be used to get people to think different about their world context?
  • WS: that is what games do, you can walk in someone else’s shoes. It is an experience of being in another place. It is what we do everyday
  • HJ: games are the only media that lets you feel guilt – if you do something bad you have a stake in the consequences (quoting Wright again).
  • WS: my wife has never finished Deus EX as she killed a dog in the beta.she felt such guilt she never went back
  • Q: Do you see development of narrative of games to problem solving? and is there real support to keep them out of classroom to reinforce accidental learning
  • JG: game sin classroom are often to support text books, We have to change theory of learning before we can do this…put different games in classrooms
  • HJ: Labyrinth is not about beng in the classroom, it is to be played outside but then discussed.. Games in schools does not work – the timeframe does not fit in the lesson.  It is not the efficient way of using time. Students look to knowing what they need to know to ge the test. School is not seen a place to play and we have to change this. Until we expect responsibility, then games will not be properly used in classrooms.  But how do we give kids without computers at home access to the skills that game players will have.
  • Q: is there a distinction for difference in narrative between a novel and game? I call it contextual narrative.
  • WS:we don’t have consistent terminology, I call it shared authorship
  • HJ: it is a form of narrative based on world building. Scifi and fantasy os often this.  Worldbuilding narratives invite creativity in a different way to plot driven narrative
  • Q: so how can brand use game theory and gameplay to engage audience in social media.
  • WS: hire a game designer for a few weeks.
  • HJ: it is huge growth area, that appears to a different type of players. I would be wary of learning too much from current theory. Hire female designers etc, bring diff types of social expertise to the table, who understand the networking.
  • WS: Read Rules of Play, has a lot foundational work.  Tracy Ford Game Design Workshop, It will give a vocab to discuss.

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.