Gaming and Learning: An Interview with “Sims” creator

Will Wright, creator of “The Sims” and “Sim City” video games, suggested in a recent interview that video games can help inspire students to learn more, but that they do this best by approaching lessons with abstraction and subtlety.  By focusing on what he calls “strategic thinking,” which we might call “critical thinking” and providing less overtly didactic cases, students learn skills that can lead to later intuitive jumps to apply the logic of the game to real life scenarios.  Supporting the playful and subtle game lesson with links to factual resources (Want to know more about these kinds of things? Go to…) can provide immediate positive feedback to curiosity.

My sense of what he’s suggesting is that faculty can stimulate the desire for deeper learning by encouraging students to play with subtle simulations.  An application of Wright’s ideas could be for a teacher to create simplified case studies (reduced the level of complexity) based on the concept(s) that students should learn. Students are then provided with the opportunity to play around with adjusting the scenarios, taking different points of view, and trying to determine how things would work out if different decisions were made.  This can work out nicely in the exploration of concepts and theories that suggest physical consequences generated in response to particular behaviors.  Which ones don’t?

I think that designing such these kinds of games to support learning theories and concepts might be useful to theorists as well.  To have to work through the process of laying out the rules and their implications provides a great way to quickly test the logic and strength of a particular theory against the universe of possible and plausible actions the players might want to take.  Having students work through this process, to “wargame” scenarios related to particular concepts provides students with opportunities to learn how to think critically, solve problems, and learn actively. Theorists may benefit by having multiple brains work to test the concept using outside the box ways of thinking and with less ego-involvement and politcs on the part of both the investigator and reviewers than may be true of later formal peer review processes.