A game design expert on what Starcraft and Angry Birds can teach us about problem-solving, logic, and thought itself
The group of sixth graders huddled for a quick strategy session before motioning me over. A faint Super-Mario-like tune wafted from a laptop sitting atop their table, and a complicated set of diagrams that appeared to include both mathematical equations and Egyptian hieroglyphics sat nearby. "What's the goal of your game?" I asked.
"It's a puzzle—you have to decipher the pictograms to find a way out." They handed me a pair of headphones and I was on my way, lost immediately in the spatial intricacies of a 2D game that seemed to require me to do math while simultaneously avoiding an angry mob of mummies. The students monitored my progress, conferring with each other when I got stuck, carefully offering hints that allowed me to revise my strategy. After 15 minutes of intense play I sat back and smiled.
The setting was Quest to Learn, a New York City public school my organization helped start that features a curriculum based on game design. While this use of computer games might sound radical, game design just might matter today more than ever, as it is a discipline predicated on enabling the invention of multiple solutions to complex problems. Education is one area that is looking to games for new approaches to the design of learning, to which the school-based scenario above attests. Some city governments have begun making budgeting and spending decisions using models that resemble large, multiplayer games (a method that has shown success in Canada and Latin America). Topcoder Inc., a software company that uses a competition-based software development approach, is leading the way in integrating game design thinking into the space of entrepreneurial innovation. Game design is definitely an idea in the ether and is worth knowing a little more about.