BoingBoing pointed me to The Democratization of Entertainment:
conventional fiction media (prose, film, theater, TV and the rest) are essentially aristocratic in nature: the Artist creates, the audience consumes. Games, contrariwise, allow individual players to participate in the creation of their fictional experience. The developers still shape and constrain that experience, to be sure, but there is no experience without the active engagement of the player; the player may well do something with the construct that the developers had not anticipated; and the ultimate experience is a collaboration in which both sides participate, not something handed down from On High by the Great Artiste. It is, in other words, the antithesis of aristocratic; games are a way for everyman to participate in creating his or her own narrative experience. Games are a democratic artform for a democratic age.
One good example I can think of is SecondLife. The game provides a 3-D virtual environment whereby players can interact with other players via the avatar. What you do within the environment is very much up to the creativity of the players.
Fablusi roleplay simulation is another good example. Roni Linser and I have written about a similar concept:
Master Yoshi says: "12 spokes make a wheel but it is the space between them which makes it useful. A window is made of a frame but it is the empty space which makes it useful." Master Yoshi was a Zen master in the 13th century. What he teaches us is that 'emptiness' is useful. In the context of educational tools it leads us to an awareness of the utility of the space opened up within the structure of tools. It is precisely this which explains why Role Play Simulations (RPS) are so useful. It is because the structure frames a unique space for participants to interact and create a learning experience for themselves.
An empty space is an empty space. Players need a "purpose" to be in the space and a "compelling reason" to act. Suppose we are flying a virtual plane in a flight simulator (e.g. x-plane). It is dull and no fun. Add a challenge, such as going from one place to another. OK, that would be some kind of thrill for some pilots. Add the challenge of a storm. OK, you have something to play with. Add yet a failure of an on-board engine - that's challenging.
From a game angle, one of the tasks of the game designer is come up with different kinds and levels of challenges so that a player is gradually "sucked" into the game.
The linkage of an environment (a space) with learning has been an interest to me for a quite some time. I see great parallel here. If a player, in order to achieve the game goal, needs to learn "something". The game goals become the greatest incentive for the player to learn "something". This is a classic case of a problem-based learning design - with one twist. We are now purposefully building an empty space (with constraint so that it is a contained space). We ensure the players are active participants in the space by providing "game goals". We "back-map" the game goals to learning objectives.
In A Novel Simulation for the Literature Classroom, Mary Noggle describes her experience of running a role play simulation for "American literature which emphasizes historical perspective, cultural context, and literary analysis." based on Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter.
The Scarlet Letter simulation begins at the pivotal point of the narrative when Hester Prynne and Arthur Dimmesdale meet in the forest, confess to their moments of deception, and avow to begin anew together. From there, the story moves to areas of the simulation set up for interaction among the characters. These interaction spaces (iSpaces) relate to spaces described in the novel. The forest scene, the governor’s mansion, and the meeting house, among others, serve as areas to intermingle, further developing the plot.
With the spaces set up, we then need the compelling reasons to act was.
The Scarlet Letter simulation begins at the pivotal point of the narrative when Hester Prynne and Arthur Dimmesdale meet in the forest, confess to their moments of deception, and avow to begin anew together.
and later in a second phase:
advances the storyline fifteen years in order to incorporate events leading up to the Boston witch trials of 1665, the persecution of historical character Ann Hibbins, and emphasizes the roles of Pearl and John Hathorne.
Surprisingly, students were reluctant to take part in the simulation at first; however, after the initial practice phase, these students demonstrated an eagerness to take part in the play. They take the story to heart, empathizing with the characters, and understand the painful experiences described in the narrative. Oftentimes in studying literature, students give a superficial reading of the novel. Through the simulation, though, students read more critically in order to delve inside the characters, understanding the key elements of motivation and internal conflict in order to effectively portray the roles. This careful reading was found with the supplementary reading material as well as the novel. Students read with interest sermons, journals, and poetry of the time period in order to capture the voice and beliefs of the people. In expanding the characters on their own, students also appreciate the author’s ability to develop characterization. In adopting the personas of these historical figures, students learn tolerance of varied beliefs while understanding the psychology of the times.