My first job out of college was designing and programming educational computer games on the old Apple ][, TRS-80 Model 1 (shudder), etc (a couple of my better-known products were FaceMaker & Spellicopter). At that time, these initial PCs were new, and people were excited. A whole bunch of folks came out to ‘Silicon Valley’ (before it really had that label) and started saying that they could program applications for these machines. Some great companies were formed, including the Learning Company, and some great applications, including Visicalc. But also a whole bunch of other companies sprung up, and eventually there was a crash. Out of the ashes, some good companies survived but also some good ones failed.
The reason I tell this story is not to show how old I am (I was a child prodigy, honest ;), but because that was my first experience with a gold rush mentality. What I mean here is when something new becomes perceived as an opportunity, and a whole bunch of people jump on the bandwagon and try to make money off of it. I’ve subsequent seen the same story repeat with multimedia, the internet, and online learning.
I think I’m seeing it now in Serious Games. There’s a lot of good stuff going on, don’t get me wrong, yet I think I’m also seeing a lot of people jumping on the bandwagon who are the equivalent of the ‘snake oil’ salesman: talking a good game but not really ‘getting’ what’s important. I’m afraid that the consequence of hype and disappoints will be a backlash against this new incarnation of a great idea just as there was against the previous version, ‘edutainment’. I do see a lot of good things happening, and for once I hope I’m just being an alarmist.
There’s nothing wrong with a company with game experience looking to this new area as a potential business opportunity, but I hope they do so with more than just a token nod to the learning side. I don’t believe you can put game designers and instructional designers in a room together and get an optimal outcome. I think you need to have a language to do so (hence Engaging Learning). So, I’ve a clear interest and bias, but I truly believe what I say. And it’s my blog anyway…