Tuesday, 23 June 2009

Critical thinking and The Sims 3

Thanks to Costas again for sending me a link to a fascinating blog that is looking at what happens when you decide to play a homeless family in The Sims 3 (see pic below of Kev and his daughter Alice, created by Robin Burkinsaw).


While it's pretty interesting in itself, it reminded me of some of Gonzalo Frasca's work which discusses Augusto Boal's Theatre of the Oppressed in relation to video game design and how this could be used to encourage critical thinking. In an article on the same topic (based on this thesis) he discusses a hypothetical, open source version of the original Sims that would allow players to have much more control over character creation (which seems to have be part of the latest one). He argues that this control would allow players to create characters with the traits they want and gives an example of someone playing this version of the game and comparing the effects of these different traits. His main argument seems to be that by reducing immersion (in this case, the term seems to refer to attention and the suspension of disbelief, as opposed to the feeling of inhabiting a virtual environment) through allowing players more control, you will encourage critical thinking and reflection. I'm not sure whether providing more control , on its own, automatically leads to a more reflective stance about the game, but Robin Burkinshaw's blog does suggest how this might manifest.

And the link made me think that I should probably get a copy of the game myself...

6 comments:

Costas said...

Still following the Alex & Kev story although having never played a Sims game before i don't know what is actually controlled by the player and what is due to the character traits the Sim people have.

Being immersed in a particular game for me does indeed reduce my critical thinking during the time i play. This can sometimes be a conscious decision when my interest primarily is to enjoy the experience that to critically assess it or how it's making me feel/think/.

Jo Iacovides said...

Yeah, I think that's part of the problem when using games for educational purposes... It's quite difficult to be sucked into the game and reflective at the same time, so the more critical thinking phase is often included after the game play in some sort of debriefing session. I'm pretty sure this also has something to do with how you can try and get learning to transfer beyond the context of the game.

But does that mean there aren't games where you can do both? From my own reseach perspective, I do wonder what that means for games being played for entertainment purpose. More specifically, how can you account for any learning/critical thinking that occurs outside the instance of game play?

Costas said...

But i guess this applies to other media as well. Some films/books only have entertainment value whereas others go beyond that.

I think some the few genres that i do find myself critically thinking about them and appreciating what they are offering without ruining the experience are strategy and puzzle games. What both have in common is that they don't have stories or at least it's not a major component of the game.

Instead you make your own stories of how defeated the enemy or how you solved a particular puzzle. Civilization and Braid come to mind.

Etienne Celibataire said...

Regardless if your conscious or not of it, games do develop parts of your thinking that are involved in the multitude of decisions that a game proposes. I got really interested in games like Sims or Civilization because of this thing.

Rencontres said...

EA understood that they are loosing Sims fans (the fact that there were more Sims fans than those of Sims 3).
Thats why they their to provide huge diversity of the life in Sims. To choice to be homeless is different from the standard gameplay would be interesting.
In my opinion whatever EA does and promotes , Sims would be always behind Second Life. Its all about the diversity

Jo Iacovides said...

I do agree that games that encourage strategising and creative problem solving add another layer to our gaming experience. While we may not always be conscious of how we are making decisions along the way, games like the Sims and Civilization, that allow a certain amount of open-ended gameplay (but within a gamelike structure) do seem to be require greater levels of critical thinking. I think you become 'immersed' in a different way then you would in something that require a fast reaction time.

In terms of my own experience, Second life seems to go a bit to far in terms of the diversity it can offer - I prefer something like the Sims precisely because it is a game. In contrast, Second life makes me feel a little lost, like I'm not quite sure what I'm supposed to be doing there...