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Interview with Jonathan Truitt, Professor, Director of CMU Center for Learning through Games and Simulations

Q: What was the first game you can remember playing?

Rook – my extended family always played it at Thanksgiving.

Q: How can any game actually be a scholarly endeavor? Doesn’t that take a lot of the fun out of playing?

Games ultimately set constraints on what we can and cannot do in the play space. Thismirrors certain spaces in our life. Your work, interactions with friends, and school to just name a few. All of them have sets of rules that you are expected to follow whether they are spoken or unspoken. In getting at a scholarly game, you are creating the rules around an endeavor you find compelling. Something that you both want to learn and teach people. Going back to Rook, it is a trick taking game: I learned about suits, turn taking, power dynamics of certain cards, and bidding. Students who play games in courses are learning the content of that course. Some don’t want to play, but many do, and it encourages them to come to class and engage in the materials. As to taking the fun out of playing, for some. But not everyone likes every type of game. If you are using games in an educational setting it is important to vary the types of games you use. That way students who don’t like role-playing games have the opportunity to try a board game or an escape room.

Q: Is a simulation an unconscious attempt to evade actual reality?

No. Simulations are often times attempts to better understand reality by creating a safe space to engage in a similar situation. A Star Trek holodeck of sorts.

Q: “Monumental Consequences” is a pretty consequential title, along with its premise—that art might actually be worth dying for—what takeaways do you expect, or want, players to have?

This is more a question for the designer , the scholar who created the game, than it is for me. For myself, I want them to understand that the value of art is personal. What might get me to run into a burning building to save a piece of art is different than what it might be for another person. Ultimately though our life is richer because there is art in it.

Q: What can we learn from any game that reality can’t provide?

Games give us a safe space to fail. In a game it is safer to continually fail over and over again at a skill until you get it than it is in reality. Reality gives us those opportunities to learn as well, but the consequences of failure in reality are generally worse than the consequences of failure in a game.

What do you think?

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