In it Wright mentions SimAnt, a game he made based on his interest in biology and his reading of Wilson. My first thought was, “Yeah, but how well did it sell?” Much to my surprise, it apparently sold 100,000 copies and was named Best Simulation Program by the Software Publisher’s Association. So much for cynicism, and my notions of what is commercial and what isn’t. Just to further rub salt in my own wounds, I remind myself that The Sims is the best selling game of all time. And it isn’t really even a game by conventional definitions. There are no victory conditions, no phat l00t.
But what about The Sims Online? That didn’t seem to work as well, shutting down August 1 of last year, after being rebranded as EA-Land in 2007. I never played it, I don’t know what the problems were, though the Wikipedia article hints at problems with the in-game economy. Or maybe it was that whatever was interesting and fun about The Sims was spoiled by having other people around?
Anyway, we were talking about E.O. Wilson’s interview. He stated that he thinks that games will be very big in education, and talked about having a virtual Jurassic forest that students could walk through with an instructor, walking away from the “I talk, you listen” format of college lectures. Honestly, I’d say the lecture is the one thing in college courses most likely to survive, though I agree that the printed textbook is in big danger.
It got me thinking though. What’s the game that teaches people to do algebra or calculus in that sort of exploratory, toy-like way? Tying this back to MMO’s, can any of this be a shared experience?
On the plus side, I’ve learned a great deal from board games and tabletop roleplaying, which is social. On the minus side, once you bring other people into the equation, you introduce the possibility of shame, which stifles learning.
As I said yesterday, I think that shame has to be addressed not with game mechanics, but socially. In fact, by striving to avoid shaming players, and allowing them to be successful at every step of the way, game designers may unwittingly be feeding the shame culture by creating expectations of success. I think this plays out in education with the whole “self-esteem” curriculum movement. I’ve come to see confronting failure as a critical part of growth.
Of course, game designers are trying to sell games as pleasant recreations, making players fail all the time might not sell too many copies. But I’ve continued to be astonished at how strict MMO gamedevs can get away with being to their customers. Games can have powerful effects through narrative and media. Isn’t it possible to separate failure and shame? We do that in private all the time…