John Bohannon recently wrote in Science magazine about the review by a group of scientists of the game Spore from a scientific point of view (Flunking Spore). Given the comments of the reviewers, it’s clear that many aspects of the game do not provide an accurate model of evolutionary science. As the article states, ‘Spore clearly has little in common with science’.
The writer goes on to say ‘with very minor tweaks, the game could live up to its promise’. But the tweaks required to make it good science might easily make it a less engaging game. This is not to say that learning shouldn’t be enjoyable and engaging: just that what makes a game enjoyable and engaging might not be quite the same thing as what makes a game enjoyable and engaging. And that what makes a game engaging might be precisely because it is nothing like reality.
In his critique of the article, John Hawks counters the observation that Spore is not good science by saying ‘Dude, it’s a game‘. Exactly: the design imperatives for a successful game do not necessarily match the design imperatives for a learning experience. He even goes on to point out how some of the ‘tweaks’ that Bohannon suggests for improving the science of Spore would diminish its value as a game.
Games and learning are not intrinsically incompatible. But because games do not necessarily represent reality well, how we incorporate games into learning experiences can be all-important. If I was to incorporate Spore into a science class, I’d be trying to engage learners in a critical analysis of the science implicit in the game, not relying on the game to impart scientific principles.