I attended an event organised by Digital Surrey last night. The speaker was one of the original programmers behind the game M.U.D., Richard Bartle. His focus this evening was trying to predict what virtual massively multiplayer online (M.M.O.) game worlds might be like in 2022. He gave us various scenarios, some positive and others negative and it was all very interesting seeing how things might turn out, but the but one thing that really got me thinking was his comment that Edutainment doesn’t equal fun education, it equals unfun games
I can see what he’s saying. I remember receiving “French is fun” with my MSX computer back in the mid 1980s. LIES! It might have been fun if the game consisted of throwing onions at blocky images of The Eiffel Tower that exclaimed “Mon dieu” or “Zut alors” every time you hit it… but unfortunately all it did was try to give you French lessons… Which wasn’t fun at all, despite the fact that I wanted to learn French.
After Richard’s Edutainment comment and with my “Libraries give information” hat on, I’ve got some thoughts going around my head – wondering if virtual games can/could successfully educate by providing information subtly as an integral part of the game? For example, if you’re playing a game set in a fantasy world based around ancient Egyptian mythology could you drop in facts about ancient Egypt as part of the narrative if it didn’t impinge on the game play? Or actually include those facts as part of the game play? Would the player think “Hang on a minute. Someone’s trying to teach me something here!”? If it’s true that serious M.M.O. game players get engrossed in the game, wouldn’t their immersion in the virtual world work in the educators favour? Wouldn’t the gamer take in those facts readily in a willingness to be enveloped in the story, or if they believed remembering the facts were essential to progress through the game? But then again, if you’re giving gamers facts and fantasy in the same world could they also equate the fantasy as fact too? Could the division between fantasy and reality be blurred and any value that the factual parts have be undone by the misinformation of the fantasy? I suppose if that was the case you could also say that “The Mummy” film was also giving out confusing information and messing with our heads… On one hand it talks about known Pharoah’s and other ancient Egyptian facts, and on the other it raises them from the dead to wreak chaos! I’m not sure many people believe The Mummy to be an accurate account of Egyptian history.
So, what information could you plonk in there and how could you do it so it was disguised as part of the fun? Could you do it so that it was genuinely part of the fun, not just disguised as it? How far could you take it before someone realised it was no fun any more and had become edutainment? And, if you were devising the game for edutainment purposes, would you already be involved in a losing battle, because games are for playing and your primary purpose in this instance is serving up the information, not playing the game?