We Learn Through Play … But Only When It’s Fun

December 18, 2007 at 2:45 pm | Posted in Gaming, virtual worlds | Leave a comment

The MIT Technology Review reported today on a failed experiment at using virtual worlds for educational purposes.  While there is certainly a long list of failed attempts to use games to educate, this one comes from an unlikely source: Ed Castronova.  Castronova wrote the book on virtual worlds (literally: Synthetic Worlds is a very good book on the topic), and even covered the “economics of fun”.  But what he found is that 1) a game has to be fun to attract players, 2) reaching critical mass in terms of the number of players is critical to launching a virtual world, and 3) creating a good virtual world still costs a lot of money.

According to the article (Virtual Labor Lost) Castranova says:

“I was talking to people like it was going to be Shakespeare: World of Warcraft, but the money you need for that is so much more,” he says. Castronova also says that he was taking on too much by attempting to combine education and research. He believes that his experience should serve as a warning for other academics.

I wouldn’t take this as meaning that serious games cannot work if they are not fun.  Simulation and training exercises can use game-like elements without being “fun” and still be useful.  But it seems Castronova found that it’s important to distinguish between the serious gaming situations that require a major dose of fun to be successful and those that don’t.

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