This article focuses mainly on discussing the possibility for open-ended games to become tools for both educating and interacting with people, be it strictly as a way to build skills or as a tool for evaluating society. This is done through looking at open-ended games as possibilities for a “designed experience.” Kurt Squire begins by pointing out several properties of open-ended simulations or “sandbox” games. He claims that the games allow players to develop “productive literacies,” meaning that they are able to use the game to “produce both meaning and tangible artifacts” (168). In this way, these games can be used to foster development in certain areas. By creating “targeted games,” programmers can try to teach new concepts, skills, or ideas to the players. In effect, they teach the gamer new ways to develop specific ways of thinking about the game, or the subject of the game. He continues to explain that these games utilize several different methods of game play to support learning.
From here, Squire move onto actual examples of using open-ended games to first learn about the way that game play can describe personality and differences views of society, and then as a method of education. This is possible, he claims, because these games are “more about inhabiting a world from a general perspective, which the player can play out in whatever manner suits his or her taste” (171). To this end, he also argues that these games say more about the players because of the extended timescale that these games are (on average) played for.
First, Squire describes the results of his testing of Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas. Squire seems to be looking for reactions involving the way that race, gender, and class are depicted in the game. He describes three different reactions and methods of game play, from three different groups. First, there is Honovi and his friends from an African-American community; then, a group of white kids from a working class neighborhood; finally, a group of high school age, economically poor African Americans. Each group produces its own concerns and methods of game play. Honovi enjoys customizing cars, and the culture of hip-hop represented in the games. However, when in front of his friends, he cares more about violent chases and jumps. The working class white kids say that they find the game to be a bit offensive in its racial stereotypes. And the final group says that the game presents an unrealistic idea of class mobility, and that the idea that a video game could cause the violence they see in their neighborhoods ignoring larger social issues. From these results, Squire concludes that the there is no one true experience for playing GTA: San Andreas, but instead that different versions of the game exists for different players within different sociological groups. He writes that in essence “Players learn the rules of the system, using them as a backdrop to play off of, a context to perform within, rather than as a stable system of meaning that they’re ‘inculcated’” (178) with. The game becomes one of “possibility spaces,” for both the intellect and identity of the player.
Squire’s second subject for testing is the educational value of historical open-ended games, such as Civilization. He uses the third game in the series as a tool for teaching students about geography, politics, and history. First, he notes that the play style of the players, like in GTA: San Andreas, cause an individual experience of game play to exist for each student. After his tests, certain students took away from the experience different things than others. Many gained a better knowledge of world geography. Others walked away believing that all of civilization has acted according to a series of patterns, based upon lines of money, imperialism, geographic location, and natural resources. Judging on what each student walked away with, one could begin to understand where a person’s true interests lie.
The last section of his article centers on the Apolyton University. The school, run by students for students, where the core mode of education takes place using games like Civilization. The school claimed that these games foster the student’s abilities to analyze situations and come up with creative ways of solving problems. From here, he moves to his final conclusions about the way that these games turn “players to producers” (187). The games become individual exercises and experiences in learning, identity, and assessment of values. The players find themselves more interested in certain aspects of the games, such as Jason, who went so far as to study the culture of Scandinavia so as to better understand their role in the game Civilization III. In the end, he cites that open-ended games are still in their early stages, and as such we remain in the early stages of finding ways to analyze ways in which these games can be used as tools for growth and learning. He however cites the hope that eventually they will help students, teachers, and players in general better reflect upon the ways that they can “teach themselves to learn” (193), which was the overall goal of the exercise involving Civilization.