What happens if you give someone a toy planet? This was one of the questions I was asked to answer after watching Will Wright’s TED talk about his game called Spore. Here is that presentation:
Spore is a creative game that allows you to develop creatures and nurture them across time and through evolution.
As I watched Will Wright’s presentation, he touched on a couple of things that really resonated with me. First of all, he reflected on his upbringing in a Montessori School and how the school used educational games to help develop understanding of concepts. This ties closely with what I have read about the Sudbury School. In essence, students are allowed to naturally explore their environment to learn. I am totally in favor of this approach. It takes a little time to wrap your head around the concept, but it is closely related to how we learn as adults. I think we have a hard time grasping that we can learn without sitting in a classroom simply because the majority of us sat in a classroom and had a curriculum forced upon us. But how much of what you learned in school do you really remember? Could you pass an exam on that material? How much do you remember when you are in charge of your learning? Just some things to ponder.
Another interesting point made in the presentation was that the game, Spore, allowed users to learn by trial and error. There were infinite opportunities to make modifications in design to test out a theory. If your design failed, you could easily restart, make modifications, and test your design. Edison was known for his successful inventions but equally known for how often he failed. He understood failure to simply be a stepping stone to success. I think we have created an environment in schools where failure is not appreciated. This has resulted in students who are reluctant to participate for fear of failure. A game like Spore provides an opportunity to try and try again.
The other piece not mentioned directly but I believe very important is the collaboration piece. As I play World of Warcraft, for example, there are times when I get stuck on a quest and need assistance. I can often ask friends who are online or I can tap into the massive wiki for the guidance I need. In a game like Spore, students can reference online material to help them move forward, but they can also add to the knowledge base. In many cases, this type of behavior can be learned but sometimes a small prompt is needed. I am still mistified by the number of professors who complain about Wikipedia but do nothing to correct it. Being able to add to a knowledge base is an essential skill to learn and participate in.
All in all, I enjoyed the presentation, and I think the game is a great way to explore ideas.