The Gardner Museum Heist

On the night of March 18th, 1990, thirteen pieces of art were stolen from the Gardner Museum in Boston. Two men disguised as police officers were allowed entry into the museum from the guards because…


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Why Games are the Future of Education

Games are the future of education, and human thought itself. Well, maybe that’s a bold claim coming from a game designer, but certainly in the past one hundred years people have become more globally interconnected than ever. This leads to many great feats like pressing a “buy now” button on a website and having a package delivered the next morning. It also leads to many global problems such as rapid climate change, massive garbage, and deadly pandemics. These problems are not simple to solve. They are not even solvable by conventional logical reasoning that the current education system, in America at least, tries to teach. While in school we are taught to solve problems step by step in a sequence, the problems of society are so interconnected that sequences don’t work. What happens in a small isolated environment quickly can have massive consequences on the entire planet. We need an education that teaches how to solve systematic problems, where parallel problems effect each other and where there are multiple players making global decisions at once.

Games are the future of human thought because games fundamentally train players to make numerous decisions in a system of complex interconnected rules with nuanced objectives. When discussing games for education, I don’t necessarily even mean games that are made for the purpose of academic education, but rather that the media as a whole has an important place in the future of thinking. To talk about how games as a medium can be educational, let’s consider some other common media. Books, or writing, expresses ideas as a composition of facts. As such writing is perhaps the best medium for transferring memorized factual knowledge. Writing is also good at expressing abstract concepts like mathematics, philosophy, and inner thoughts of characters. Film excels at relating ideas in space and time. It also connects to our human nature to observe others and empathize. We have a strange magical connection to music that I don’t think I could do justice to in writing. If you need evidence that music affects people, listen to a piece of music.

Games allow players to learn a lot of information about a relatively small system of rules. Consider Tetris. The basic rules of Tetris are so simple even very young children can grasp it. If you were to play a lot of Tetris and get decently good, you would, in the process, learn a lot. You would learn that to get the highest score you should try to clear 4 lines at a time. You would learn that you should only clear lines with a straight line piece. You would learn to save a straight line piece to quickly clear lines in case you were near the top. You would learn combinations of pieces that fit together to make larger blocks. I’d wager that if you were to write down everything you knew about Tetris, you’d have well over 5 pages of knowledge that you learned just from playing the game.

Tetris is a simple game, but the ideas of exponential knowledge from a system of rules apply to all games. For the most complex games, you could probably write entire encyclopedias of knowledge for each of them. You might not believe that the ideas in games are meaningful to real life. While Tetris isn’t immediately applicable to reality, though I’d argue that it subconsciously is, the ideas of many games are. For instance Filament, a puzzle game where the player run cables along pillars to solve complex problems, teaches many ideas from mathematical graph theory.

The Konigsberg Bridge problem in graph theory. Can you find a path going through all 7 bridges crossing each bridge exactly once?

In City Skylines, you build cities that must balance economic policy, pollution, traffic flow, public transportation usage, education, labor forces, tourism, and much more.

This is to say that games, when they are made well, have the power to teach not facts, but rather ways to think to the player. The educational value of games comes from their natural ability to show the player how to think. There are many problems in actually making these games that are outside the scope of this piece, but hopefully you can better understand how the knowledge of complex systems provided by games can help to solve the growing global problems in the current and in the future.

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