This is a guest post by John Krajewski, studio head and creative director at Strange Loop Games.
What do you know about the Oregon Trail? I’m willing to be that your knowledge on the subject is gained almost entirely from the thusly-named game, where your typical quest across the country saw your resources dwindle, your family members drop one by one from accidents and disease, ending all too often with words ‘You have died of dysentery’.
What a terrible, depressing experience that sounds like, and yet it remains one of the most widely played and remembered educational games of all times. Its creators knew a fundamental truth about the medium of video games that is often forgotten in today’s educational games: the experience you can grant a player is extremely powerful. The game didn’t force you to memorize facts, it didn’t drill you on trivia. It was completely about the experience, conveying a not-insignificant understanding of the hardship faced by those who travelled the actual Oregon Trail through the simple, direct act of putting the player in that role.
And why should it do anything else? Empathy and understanding of the individual hardship of this historic event I would argue is the most important thing you can take from it at that level of study, much more so than a collection of facts, and games have a huge advantage in delivering experiences that give this to the player well beyond other mediums. With this intrinsic power, largely untapped by most educational software, games hold the potential to be at the centre of a revolution in education, evoking in players the wonder and fascination with a subject that must form the foundation of any meaningful learning.