Edgy Learning Games

This is my presentation from GLS 2008. It was, essentially, my public unveiling of my particular concerns and values in educational game design, as embodied in two of my educational game prototypes, Cinder and Cadenzia.

I'm really proud of this presentation. I think the games came together pretty well, and they are, at the very least, interesting.

The reaction was positive but muted. In retrospect, it was possibly a strange venue for unveiling my games. Still, it got me focused and got me to pull it all together, so in the long run I don't think it was so bad.

At some point, I might finally get around to making good on my threats, and I might finally write my tongue-in-cheek "Violent Learning Game" manifesto that I've been threatening for years now. For now, I'll just say, these games are a reaction to the exasperating fact that no one, anywhere, seems interested in making educational games that I feel like respect me as a game player who 1) loves games and 2) has an enormous array of things I'd like to learn. I ultimately find it pretty baffling. I have some throw-away slide in this presentation where I bemoan that all the language around educational games seems to be fixated on students or (very simplistically defined) consumers, never on players or peers. When I look at many entertainment games that come out of the indie game scene, even bad ones, or a lot of Flash games, I recognize the work of people who obviously love games, and who expect that I, too, probably love games, for many of the same reasons they do. I feel respected, and I feel my taste respected, even when the games don't quite come together, or even when they're in styles that don't much work for me. I keep trying to find educational games that do likewise, and for the most part, even when they're made by well-intentioned people, and even when the exhibit competent production values, they come up short, or don't even seem to be trying.

I understand that there are a lot of contexts where learning game design happens, and a lot of conflicting value systems too. People will keep trying to make educational games that target classrooms, or workplaces, or parents, or after-school programs. That's fine. I understand that institutions, and capital, still have enormously complicated relationships to game aesthetics and their own brands. But I want to argue, until I'm blue in the face, that the reason that the canon of entertainment games is so deep and vital, and the palette of ideas and techniques we have to draw from there so broad, is that people who deeply love games have made games for other people who deeply love games, often in relatively cheap and unconstrained environments. I desperately want to see that same process happen with learning-oriented games.

And I'm not going to claim that my designs will work, or that they're the right direction to take for the particular topics I'm trying to teach. But I will say that I'm trying my damnedest, at the very least, to fail in a spectacular and possibly inspirational way.

Am I wrong?

I should say, too, that contrary to what I'm saying above, Civilization, and SimCity, and Rock Band 3, and a strange assortment of great games that happen to have learning components do exist. But they're nothing like a movement.

For my GLS 2008 presentation, I actually did all of my slides in my C# game engine (all interspersed with my games running live). It was pretty cool, but it gave the slide recording software absolute fits. So, I've re-recorded the game demonstrations and added them after the presentation.