Paper: Learning In The Wild

Learning In The Wild: What Wolfquest Taught Developers and Game Players
David Schaller, Kate Goldman, Grant Spickelmier, Steven Allison-Bunell, Jessica Koepfler [2009]

In this paper, the authors explain their experience developing Wolfquest, which is a serious game about wolves.

It's interesting to see that they used several learning principles from the book "What Video Games Have To Teach Us About Learning and Literacy" (James Paul Gee) and integrated them into the different gameplay mechanics that a player can do in their game. These principles are reflected in the way people play and their research shows that they were successful as players really became interested in wolves.

WolfQuest involves three components: The game, the on-line community and the national network. They made the on-line community an important part of the game as it allows players to share experiences with wolves and nature inside and outside the game, as well as exchanging tips and strategies to improve their gaming experience. Moreover, the game's impact is expanded by a network of zoos and institutions involved in wolf education (they help extend the reach of the project).

Their research showed that after playing the game, people really improved their knowledge about wolves and actually became interested in doing wolf-related activities (visit a zoo to see wolves, talk to friends about wolves, read books about wolves, etc).

The game developers had some unexpected issues that I found quite interesting. They concluded that 3D games are actually very hard to make, with everything from textures and shaders to artificial intelligence and simulation. They even went 40% over their $275,000 game development budget.

They also found that the suspension of disbelief was hard to achieve. Everything had to react naturally, the environments had to look reasonably well and any mistake, even small ones, could break the illusion.

Finally, and something that really caught my attention, was that they found that once you release your game, it's the player's game, not yours. There's a high chance that players will play the game and use it in ways that you never forsaw or intended, and you have to understand that.

Of course, they found out a bunch of other stuff that should help anyone making a serious game (or any kind of game, for that matter) for which this paper also deserves a read, paying special attention to the "Learning from WolfQuest" section.

Schaller, D. et al., Learning In The Wild: What Wolfquest Taught Developers and Game Players. In J. Trant and D. Bearman (eds). Museums and the Web 2009: Proceedings. Toronto: Archives & Museum Informatics. Published March 31, 2009. Consulted March 8, 2011.

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