Out Of The Box, And Through The Looking Glass: an exploration of the role of imaginative game-play in the practice of science
It may seem paradoxical, but engagement with the fictive and the fanciful provides a legitimate entryway into serious scientific practice. Scientific discovery depends on asking new and interesting questions, a process that in turn depends on curiosity and imagination. Engaging narratives (whether in literature, theater, film, or games) have the potential to excite both curiosity and imagination, but while narratives lead us into flights of fancy, they also demand that we project ourselves into previously unseen worlds, or unexamined corners of existence. Once we have stepped off the safe platform of the known into the void of imagination, we are open and primed for the new, the original, the inventive.
Of these narrative media, games are particularly potent devices for triggering imaginative projection into new worlds because they also require us to do so in systematic and structured ways. Well-thought out games require a grammar of practice as rigorous as that of the scientist, while demanding the player bring imagination to bear. Working with examples developed at MIT’s Education Arcade, this talk will explore models not only for instilling sound scientific practice in game players while “in game,” but also for changing players’ identification with, and understanding of science as practiced in the “real world.”
Scot Osterweil is the Creative Director of the MIT Education Arcade and a research director in the MIT Comparative Media Studies Program. He is a designer of award-winning educational games, working in both academic and commercial environments, and his work has focused on what is authentically playful in challenging academic subjects. He has designed games for computers, handheld devices, and multi-player on-line environments. Scot is the creator of the acclaimed Zoombinis series of math and logic games, and has led a number of projects in the Education Arcade, including Vanished: The MIT/Smithsonian Curated Game (environmental science), Labyrinth (math), Kids Survey Network (data and statistics), Caduceus (medical science), and iCue (history and civics). He is a founding member, and Creative Director of the Learning Games Network (www.learninggamesnetwork.org) where he leads the Gates Foundation’s Language Learning Initiative (ESL).