…and is saddened. Among the writer’s targets are Seriosity, whose Byron Reeves I have mentioned previously as doing really cool research into how games can help solve work problems; and Ian Bogost’s Persuasive Games, which has been getting press lately for the newsgames it’s building.
In many ways, the article restates what I said about games that try to teach a long time ago. (Actually, it even quotes from that). In short, that games that make education the goal usually suck — instead, you should make education the by-product, and something fun the goal.
That said, I think that I am more sanguine about the future of this segment than Slate is. Seriosity described their work at the Virtual Goods Summit, and it struck me as a smart application of basic psych principles to real life work — not a game, per se, but just the use of game mechanics.
We set up a virtual currency ourselves so you can transact by email, phone, etc, and want to apply it to serious behavior in the enterprise. Our first tests when you create the opportunity to send an email with virtual currency — in a large Fortune 500 company, and I send 1 unit of virtual currency, you will open that email 12% faster. If I send 20 units of currency, you will open it 52% faster. Virtual money changes real behavior.
Similarly, the writer goes on to praise the sort of education that he gets from Civilization via osmosis, but dismisses the potential for the same to happen in the work of Persuasive Games. The fact that it exists in the one means it can exist in the other. Has it been achieved in serious games? Well, no, by and large there is still a lot of work to do on the fun side of the equation. But we should keep in mind that most non-serious games aren’t crazy fun either. So I have confidence that we can get there, as long as developers do not fall into the trap of didacticism.
All that said, it is nice to see an article in Slate about games, and one that is clearly well-researched.