A few years ago, I was recognized for my “lifetime achievement” by an organization called the “North American Simulation and Gaming Association.” During that same conference I learned that some people were beginning to ask a pivotal question about the very nature of simulation games – whether or not they have to be fun. It has taken me several years, but finally, a week from this Friday, I’ll be in Vancouver, B.C., Canada, responding to that very question in my Keynote address, which I have titled: “The Fun Factor.” (You can download the address here.)
My long relationship with NASAGA (beginning in the early 70’s, when I was just starting to learn about all the various uses and interpretations of the idea of games) has become increasingly more important to me over the years. People who invent and lead games to help other people understand how things work (business processes, society, culture) share with me a deep appreciation for the power of games – not only as a tool for modeling complex systems, but also because they can engage people so totally (mentally, physically, socially, emotionally…). And they are also in a very good position, not only to teach, but to transform.
As for the “fun factor” – I tried to find research supporting the idea that if something is fun people will learn it better or learn more from it. After a long and very unsatisfying search, I came to the conclusion that this was the wrong approach, entirely. Ultimately, I found, what I think was a much better reason for simulation games being fun. If possible. Whenever possible.