Thursday, March 24, 2005

Learning and Games

I've long thought that the reason games are so fun for kids (and adults), is that because they are educational. No, I don't mean reader rabbit, or Carman San Diego, I mean Doom, Warcraft, and GTA.

A friend gave me a bit of a book by John Brockman called The Third Culture by John Brockman. I read a bit by Roger Schank who says the following:

"Information is surprises. We all expect the world to work out in certain ways, but when it does, we're bored. What makes something worth knowing is organized around the conecept of expectation failure... When the waiter doesn't come over with food, you have to figure out why... You learn something when things don't turn out the way you expected.

"The most important thing to understnad about the mind is that it's a learning device. We're constantly trying to learn things. When people say they're bored, what they mean is that there's nothing to learn... The important thing about learning is that you can learn only at a level slightly above where you are. You have to be prepared."

I once played a game called Dungeon Siege. It was a fun game, for a while. I learned when to attack with the sword, and when to attack with a range weapons. I learned which characters to develop into mages, and which to develop into fighters. I got probably 80 percent of the way through the game and quit. To me, I had learned everything the game had to teach. Sure I was getting more money, stronger weapons, and more skills, but I had mastered the basic game play. The game had become boring.

Compare that to Civilization III. On the surface the game should be much duller. There is no sword play, no blood, no fireballs. In fact, you spend a lot of time irrigating fields, building roads, and building barracks. But the game play is much more intense. When I finish playing Civ III (usually it involves my wife unplugging the power cord from the wall), I have questions. What if I spent more resources on scientific development? Should I be more aggressive when it comes to expansion? I hate to go to war with neighboring countries, but maybe that’s the only way to win. Should war early? Late? Only when I have a clear advantage?

I don’t know the answers. So I keep playing; over and over and over.

Anyway, there is some more good stuff from Roger Schank, but I’ll save that for another day.

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