A very interesting hour and half with the author of The Complete Guide to Simulations and Serious Games and more recently Unschooling Rules
This was the first in what is hoped to be a series of wargaming related speakers. Mr. Aldrich is a very personable speaker who comes from a training simulation/education oriented background. He opened with an interesting discussion that related to 3 tiers of products – single player small scope products on the bottom – multiplayer, relatively constrained products in the middle and more open ended massively multi-player products at the top. He called them simulations, I made my morale checks to not bring up games vs sim, for a while…
There was a lot of interesting discussion about the roles of simulations in training – focusing on reinforcement of simple process or concepts and ramping up. He thinks in video game terms – speaking in terms of levels, trophies and the importance of interface being part of the experience not just the window into it. There was some discussion of the cost/benefit of modifying time scales (time compression mostly works, and players can handle discontinuity if its sold well (I would say if it fits the narrative – bu he was very much a “gamers game designer” and did not think in story-telling metaphors).
It was interesting when the discussion segued to ‘gaming’ – after someone asked a question about the extent to which someone could “gamify” an entire curriculum. Mr. Aldrich remarked he was seeing just that and discussed gaming in terms of incentive and reward – right out of Reality is Broken. It was then I failed my morale checked and remarked that it was interesting how we (analysts) look at game vs simulation as a “down in the trenches” sort of issue and he was using ‘game’ as a meta-construct for incentivizing and rewarding players across a ‘campaign’ of simulation experiences. When I asked for his perspective on “Sim vs game” he offered M$ Flight simulator as the iconic simulation and SimCity as the iconic game. I thought it ironic that the “iconic game” had “sim” in its title.
Aside from bringing home some rather pointed differences in worldview, the discussion showed the “old farts” could learn a lot from the video game crowd. The importance of interface was brought up repeatedly. Almost from the point of “If my interface is broken, what do I do about it” (fix it … don’t blame the players or take out bad design on them with “training”) to a discussion of how adaptable the interface should be (for the teacher – some, for the student, – probably not so much unless they will be investing a lot of time in front of it. Mr. Aldrich’s response to “how do i know if the students learned?” brought up an interesting point relating the time it takes to come up with an answer being a key metric. Mr. Aldrich advocated tests that one could reason out without having covered the material, but only with considerable time. Mastery of material (and my own experience in the naval training community reinforces this) indicates that you quickly recall material you have mastered. So getting 2 questions out of 20 wrong in a 15 minute test should gran a “better grade” than someone who took an hour to get them all right.
That only works in training – where there is a right answer – not so much in an educational setting, but we did not get into that distinction (and so is me elaborating as an aside…). When talking about the educational setting and the problems with getting people “up to speed” in limited time the idea of distributed “play-aheads” (hat-tip to Pete Pelligrino) rather than “read aheads”. That brought up the idea that in an academic setting books are assigned for homework (an idea reinforced at the end of talk when a book was given to Mr. Aldrich “because we are an academic institution”) however it is somehow inappropriate to assign games for “homeplay”. The bias against “games” just will not go quietly…
I’m forgetting some nuggets, but the talk ended on what I thought was a really important note (not the least of which is that it gave me a chance to shill for my game group ;) When asked what books to read about game design, Mr. Aldrich hemmed and hawed a bit and then gave a really great answer – related to the previous point – don’t read books – play games! Particularly games outside your “comfort zone”. You should at least have a game console and once a month buy the bestselling title and give it a go! Same for the best-seller on your smart phone. That of course is when Pete started his stopwatch for how long it would take me to sound off on the game group (was it 3 or 4 secs Pete?).
All in all it was a very interesting and fast moving 90 minutes – I can heartily endorse Mr. Aldrich as someone who speaks from great conviction (one of his favorite words!) and a varied experience base from the typical mil-gamer. Hopefully we will see him around wargaming events like Connections and CASL’s roundtable in the future! He may be too busy actually building sims and games from the sound of it!