Enrichment Games and Instructional Design

Get monthly email update!

3. Learning with "Extensible Game Systems"

By Robert Nagle, June 2001
Summary: Part 3 of this essay looks at the educational uses of "extensible game systems."

The second game category is the "extensible system." Here players can add to the gameboard by creating rooms, objects and non-player characters (NPC's). Sometimes this may merely mean that some of the players are adding to the gameboard. With the old game Dungeons and Dragons, for example, a Dungeon Master would design the gameboard and perform the role of non-player characters, while the players would play on this gameboard without really modifying the gameboard itself.

The clearest example of "extensible systems" are MUD's or MOO's, virtual places where the player will navigate through a gameboard constructed by other players. Although they provide forums for players to interact, the real zinger to these things is that players can add to the virtual world. LambdaMoo, TKMoo all bestow on players the ability to establish a room, to decorate it with objects and to describe acceptable behavior in the room. The commands are still kludgy and cryptic and must be given at a command prompt, but still the capability is there. Play can be synchronous or asychronous, and the gameboard exists even after the players leave. Unlike closed game systems, where the player never really changes the content of the game, the MOO or MUD can accumulate knowledge as the game is played by more and more people. Thus, the game has the ability to be self-sustaining.

MOO's and MUD's are environments and neither games nor learning forums. One problem is that they are rarely associated with goals. One doesn't go there to fight a dragon or to figure out the best way to fly to the moon. One goes to meet people, explore the rooms (textually, that is) and read the archives. To play a MOO, one needs to have a goal or quest. Webquest provides excellent templates and webquest examples of tasks that players could accomplish in a MOO. For example, the web quest about Aztec civilizations could be played inside a MOO full of rooms mimicking Atztec architecture.

But the lack of direction remains the clear shortcoming for the MOO's. There is no right way to build a room or to explore the rooms, and until the room structure can be built, a lot of the environment's success depends on having a critical mass of players at the same place at the same time. With extensible systems, the burden for making the game experience "enriching" goes from the game developer to the player. Part of the problem is that the MOO needs "quests" or some sort of content that provides a motivation to return and to invest time and effort in the MOO itself.

The possibilities for MOO's and MUD's center around the interaction among players and not necessarily within the environment. At the moment, the tools still don't allow a lot of sophisticated interactions between NPC's and players, and the necessity of keeping the creation tools short and simple limit the special effects. One final obvious point: navigation is text-based, and voices or mouse clicks have not been adequately been integrated into the environment (although this seems to be likely in the very near future). It is extremely cumbersome to type conversations. A MOO-based game would need to offer easier communication between players and an easier way to view the surrounding environment. MOO's will always lag behind the special effects of closed game systems, so to play a MOO seems awfully limiting and old-fashioned, however many creative possibilities it offers.

NEXT: 4. Learning with "Player-Interaction Game Systems"

Robert Nagle is an technical writer,trainer and linux nut living in Houston, Texas. He has a background in game design and instructional design. He runs imaginaryplanet.net and idiotprogrammer.com Contact me!.

Additional Resources