MySpace, Miis, Motivation

Just as some background so you can see why I'm talking about this, I've done a bit of work trying to teach game programming to kids - teenagers, really - and it's not easy. Thinking of how to make education more effective is a consideration that's often in the back of my mind.

I think that if you want to motivate kids to work on creating games, or anything else really, it's essential to give the project meaning by having them publish their creations where their peers can see.

Social networking sites like MySpace are very popular - you might even say a ubiquitous phenomenon in schools (just my own observation) - and help provide meaning and motivation for other activities. So if a project fulfills a role in that social context, the kids will be happy to do it. If it will make them more popular, or special, or somehow feels like an accomplishment within the metagame of a social networking site, then they'll want to do it. Otherwise, it's just work.

Reading the excellent Miniature Gardens & Magic Crayons again, I realized that games like The Sims, as well as Nintendo's Mii Channel, might be compelling to non-gamers partly because they can be used to explore and make statements about social networks. Both the virtual doll house game The Sims and the feature of the Nintendo Wii that allows one to recreate people's likenesses as virtual Mii dolls are appealing to people who don't normally play video games. I would guess that these people are not playing for the same reasons that typical gamers do. Instead I imagine that for the average person, creating and playing with representations of their friends (or enemies, or celebrities, or whatever) is an activity motivated by social concerns - a subset of those activities involved with socializing, exploring where one stands in relation to other people, and making statements about how one views these relationships. The fact that these are video games is almost irrelevant

The game industry is very used to thinking about things in terms of games - game reviewers for the most part agree on what makes a good game, and they all basically think about games in the same way. But that way is not going to help them think about why people like The Sims or the Wii.

Fortunately, a few people are thinking differently, and the creators of Habbo Hotel are a good example. I'd really recommend reading this report of Sulka Haro's keynote about Habbo Hotel - I found it very interesting and inspiring. There was one quote in particular I found very interesting, about the fact that tons of the mostly-teenage players of Habbo Hotel spend their time playing make-believe, roleplaying activities and roles that the game itself doesn't support: "If you look, little kids will play for hours... but teenagers are reaching the age where that's not socially allowed anymore. We're providing an environment where that's OK."

As an example given by the article, there are people who pretend to be horses, and then other people pretend to pet them! That's crazy, I don't even know how that would work! But apparently people do it. And another thing that was mentioned was how the players are often very concerned with keeping Habbo Hotel a private place separate from their parents - it would be too embarrassing otherwise, I imagine. Again, my mind is flashing back to Miniature Gardens.

Well, I seem to have drifted far from my original topic, which was about how to motivate kids to work on projects in an educational context. But this is all good stuff, and I would have wanted to get to it in a blog post sooner or later. I don't really have any conclusions to make at this point, so consider this food for thought.

And about the one-blog-post-a-week thing, I've just been so busy with school that I can't spare the time, seriously. It has turned out to be more difficult than I expected to turn my quick notebook entries into interesting, coherent blog posts. I'll keep trying though. Thanks for reading.


A Real Blog Now?

If you've been to this blog a few times, you'll know that I rarely post anything. Every so often I add links to the side as I come across interesting blogs, but the last time I posted was, what, more than three weeks ago?

But that's really silly, since I make sure to write something in my idea notebook every day! So I've decided that at least once a week, I'll go through my past entries from my idea notebook, and write about them here. Maybe then I can link to this site without feeling ashamed. :p

Expect a new post within a couple days!