Very interesting conversation between Will Wright, designer of Spore and Jill Tarter, an astrobiologist. I think Jill asks some important questions that Will Wright for whatever reason glosses over. For instance:
NOTE: The following has other questions and responses removed for the sake of keeping this shorter.
JT: Okay, so now they’ve got a better idea. How do they put it into effect, if it’s not already built into the structure of the game?
WW: …they can now have an intelligent debate about how they think it differs from the way the world really works.
JT: I agree with you. But, again I’m eager to understand how learning to be good at a game makes you good at life, makes you good at changing the world, and gives you skills that are going to allow you to reinvent your environment. Because, in the game, you play against an environment that’s been given to you.
WW: I don’t think of games as something to replace traditional education… If you can spark an interest in a kid, then you just have to get out of the way.
JT: I keep thinking about the generation that’s getting exposed to all this wonderful, rich opportunity of game-playing as education, and that they expect to be able to manipulate the real world the way they do the game world. How do we bridge that? How do we turn them into socially functioning members of humanity on one planet?
WW: It’s funny, because I think they are able, more and more, to manipulate the real world like the game world. If you look at the tools that they have available on their cell phones, Google Maps, and such, the amount of formalized information that we can extract from the world around us is skyrocketing. And it’s very much based upon things like game interfaces.
Here he doesn’t answer the question. I think this is a very important question developers of social issue games are trying to answer. How do we make a game that motivates people to affect change in the real world?
JT: Right. But this takes me back to what we’re doing as we use games to study evolution. I mean, are you, Will, the great Pied Piper who is leading our kids into a future where they will accept enhanced attributes in, or on, their own bodies and give up some of the biological aspects of humans as we know them now? Are you leading the way to the singularity?
WW: Well, as I said, if there’s one aspect of humanity that I want to augment, it’s the imagination, which is probably our most powerful cognitive tool…
A different but equally important question Jill asks, is basically, what do our games say to people? It’s a bit of a stretch to assume Spore is trying to get people to buy into the idea of the Singularity. Yet, it is important to be aware of the possible ways our games can be interpreted by everyone. Something I don’t particularly enjoy is that most of the games I play and develop basically say that violence solves everything. I don’t personally believe in that and wish more games had a different message.
Back to how to get players to affect change in the real world. Without making games that are directly tied to our environmental, political and economic systems a game has to make players care about the issue and motivate them to get involved directly. There’s a five step process explained in Made to Stick that has influenced my approach to social issue games. Make players:
1. Pay attention
2. Understand and remember the issue
3. Agree/believe it
4. Care about it
5. Be able to act on it
Biggest challenge is getting players to care about it, step 4. That’s why I believe character driven games can help, because with relateable characters players can empathize with them and understand the situation more.
© 2008, Reid Bryant Kimball. All rights reserved.