The Learning Games Network — the MIT Educational Arcade spinoff that recently jointed forces with University of Wisconsin-Madison — recently announced the release of Quandary, a learning game designed to teach ethics:
The Learning Games Network, a non-profit spin-off of the MIT Education Arcade and the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Games+Learning+Society Program, today launched Quandary, a unique game that encourages players to think ethically as they lead a human colony struggling for survival on fictional planet Braxos. The game’s goal is to provide an engaging experience for players aged 8-14 to strengthen foundational skills that help them recognize ethical issues and deal with ethical situations in their own lives.
The press release goes on to mention that while ethics and perspective-taking is often a component of gameplay, it is typically more often the side dish, and not the main course. Is it OK to, for instance, repeatedly kill your teammate in an online game? Should you mislead game neophytes to improve your own standing or status? Quandary attempts to gamify ethical decision-making.
The game is new, so there’s no feedback to share yet. It will be interesting to compare this to off the shelf games such as The Sims or Civilization, in which ethical decision-making is critical but still the side dish. In all imaginary universes, what constitutes a good decision depends on the design of the game.
It would be very interesting if someone designed a game where the goal was to uncover the off-kilter moral universe of another land. Imagine if, on Quandary’s Planet Braxos, getting killed meant a rebirth with more power, players were smothered by piles of money, and helping others never ended well. I suspect that might even offend the producers of Grand Theft Auto.