Wednesday, September 28, 2005


While games are primarily seen as fun diversions from work, I find most of them to be excellent simulations for "real life." Games are filled with situations and decision points that mirror things you might encounter everyday. It's easy to learn about efficiency, long-term planning, investing, the value of hidden information, compromise, and lots of small business techniques while playing games.

It's becoming almost common to see games used in classrooms to teach math, social skills, politics, history, and other subjects. I think the easiest applications are math, logistics/efficiency, and a sort of social-business savvy, because a lot of the best games feature these things prominently.

For example: A game like Settlers of Catan is a solid choice for teaching probability and small business savvy. In this game players have access to 5 resource types in varying amounts. If one player finds they have a dominance in a particular resource they can apply supply-and-demand economics to get ahead of the others via trading.

Ticket to Ride is another popular game right now, to win you often must learn to spot the best moment to strike. There are a fixed number of opportunities in this game, but you can't take them without a buildup of resources. If you take one early, you give away your plan and make it easy for others to block you. If you collect resources for too long, or overplan every detail, you might run out of time or another player might block your path.

Learning to adjust strategy dynamically, in response to the actions of others or chance occurances could be costly if done with your first business. If you learn to do so while playing games growing up, on the other hand...

When designing games it can be useful to think about what the game teaches its players. At the extreme end, there are games designed for an industry to teach workers and managers in that industry how to work together and how to avoid common pitfalls. Companies that provide games training give their employees hands-on experience in what not to do without demeaning lectures and without risking their actual business.

Back to the expected realm of games, as a designer you should consider what you can teach players through your game. As a parent, when playing games with your children or choosing one in a store, think about what the child (and even what you) will learn from it.


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