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Learning From Arden: Serious Games Are Meant To Be Fun!

Via: Flux - Learning For Games or Games For Learning?
and Terra Nova - Arden Slows Down, Takes Breather

Arden: The World of William Shakespeare ended a year of development in October, with lots of lessons learnt, mostly that this is very hard to do.

Arden Project's basic objective was to revolutionize social science by introducing controlled experimentation at the macro level.

The game was a project out of Indiana University funded with a $250,000 MacArthur Foundation grant.

Its creator, Edward Castronova, an associate professor of telecommunications at the university, wanted to use the world to test economic theories: by manipulating the rules of the game, he hoped to find insights into the way that money works in the real world.

Players can enter the game and explore a town called Ilminster, where they encounter characters from Shakespeare, along with many plots and quotations. They can answer trivia questions to improve their characters and play card games with other players.

Multiverse was used for early production, after which they switched to Neverwinter Nights The world is hosted on the Teragrid

Coming from Castronova, a pioneer in the field, the game was expected by many to show the power of virtual-world-based research.

But Castronova says that there’s a problem with the game: “It’s no fun.”

While focusing on including references to the bard, he says, his team ended up sidelining some of the fundamental features of a game. “You need puzzles and monsters,” he says, “or people won’t want to play … Since what I really need is a world with lots of players in it for me to run experiments on, I decided I needed a completely different approach.

Castronova has abandoned active development of Arden; he released it last week to the public as is, rather than starting up the experiments he had planned.

Part of the problem: it costs a lot to build a new multiplayer game. While his grant was large for the field of humanities, it was a drop in the bucket compared with the roughly $75 million that he says goes into developing something on the scale of the popular game World of Warcraft “I was talking to people like it was going to be Shakespeare: World of Warcraft, but the money you need for that is so much more,” he says.

Castronova also says that he was taking on too much by attempting to combine education and research. He believes that his experience should serve as a warning for other academics.