“No game designer ever went wrong by overestimating the narcissism of their players.”


Any time Will Wright opens his mouth about games, he’s worth listening to. The above quote, from his latest appearance at UC Santa Cruz, was apparently in reference to the bragging rights gamers earn through achievements, trophies, and badges found in many games today, but I think it’s compelling because it’s also a succinct explanation for why other game features – open worlds, level editors – have succeeded and spread. It’s not just about showing off; many gamers expect to be able to explore a world as completely as possible or in the order of their choosing, make it their own with the tools available, and uncover unintended consequences of the rules and conditions laid out by the designers.

And as gamers become an increasing portion of the audience for our courses and products, we’ll have to contend with some of the same impulses. I’m not entirely sure what that will mean for instructional design, but it will mean something. At some level, I think it will mean ceding control of the form of the learning experience to the user.

That’s not as scary as it may sound. Any time we deploy a simulation, we’ve already embraced the notion that different users may achieve different results. Achievements are a relatively low-overhead addition to the design of a course where user progress is already tracked. And many courses grant users some control, or the illusion of it, over the sequencing of content. In what other ways can we design instructional experiences that anticipate, rather than resist, an audience that expects control?