Gaming and Education according to Will Wright (Mr Sim City)

I listened to a great podcast at called “Lessons Learned from Game Design” by Will Wright (the inventor of Sim City, The Sims, The Movies etc.) during the SD Forum Distinguished Speaker Series (2005). You can listen to it here. It was a very interesting talk in general, but also covered Will’s views on […]

I listened to a great podcast at called “Lessons Learned from Game Design” by Will Wright (the inventor of Sim City, The Sims, The Movies etc.) during the SD Forum Distinguished Speaker Series (2005). You can listen to it here. It was a very interesting talk in general, but also covered Will’s views on education in gaming. Will talked about how he built lots of models as a kid, and how he sees the irony that he helped replace that hobby, but that he sees gaming as just building different types of models. There were two main points that hit home with me. I have made a clip of this part of the speech available at the end of this post.

How Montessori Can Impact Gaming and Vice Versa. (paraphrasing from the speech)

  • Will was educated at a Montessori school till about 6th Grade and up until then, “did not realise there even was another way”.
  • The Montessori teaching movement was started by Maria Montessori. It essentially says that Children are very good at educating themselves – it’s more about the teacher giving them the right tools and getting out of their way.
  • Maria designed these amazing little things to teach maths, science and geography, e.g. amazing little block sets for teaching polynomial maths and little interactive maps you can piece together to learn geography.
  • Will always thought that computers were ideal for that – children could learn at their own pace, in their own order of what they are interested in.
  • He also saw it related to ‘learning styles’. Every kid can take their own path into it or through it. Bound to end up with a more effective educational medium.
  • It was a big surprise to Will that computers haven’t been used more for this. It seemed to Will that computers are exactly what Maria Montessori would have wanted to use to teach.

It is easy to see how Will was inspired by this in Sim City, and the other games he has created. Keep an eye out for his latest work ‘Spore’, where you start off as a single celled organism and direct its evolution to a sentient species that develops space travel. Info and teasers are available on Spore, but the game is not due for release until 2007. I also totally agree with all these points, including ‘Why have computers not been used more for this?’. Hopefully the Imaginality work I am doing will address a lot of this…

Educational Gaming – Failures and Potentials. (again, paraphrasing from the speech)

  • It has gotten to the point where if it says it is educational, it is the kiss of death in the games industry.
  • Often because kids are now making their own purchasing decisions. That Age is moving down from 12 to 8 to 5. “You don’t sell software to a five year old by saying it is educational”.
  • And also because educational software is traditionally stigmatised as not being fun.
  • Will’s solution is to make it/market it on entertainment value, with education as a side effect. “I think that education and entertainment, when done the right way, become the same thing”.
  • So these market forces have somewhat eliminated ‘shovelware’ educational software (badly designed educational software, focusing on quantity vs. quality).
  • Will would love to see gaming etc influences return educational software to a more mass-market medium.

Hmmm, I guess I had better stop calling Imaginality ‘educational’ ;-). But with any luck, it will be fun and engaging enough to break down this barrier. I’ve noticed that Sony Playstation has pretty much gone out of its way on a number of occasions to avoid being associated with education. I think this is a sad, sad state of affairs indeed, especially if it had the opportunity to do public good like this and turned it down for commercial gain.

My next post actually develops this idea further, with more statistics and opinions from educational software developers.

My last comment is that rocks! This is where I found and listened to this seminar, but they also have audio recordings of a large number of (mostly tech oriented) conferences available for free. Thanks to I have been able to ‘attend’ at least three conferences from the other side of the world, without taking a single day off work, for free. Incredible stuff.

Author: EricWoods

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