National Public Radio just aired a wonderful conversation between Spore and Sims creator Will Wright and Harvard biologist E.O. Wilson, well worth a read or listen. But the chat didn’t go the way Wright thought it would:
I came into the interview with all these questions I wanted to ask him about evolution,” Wright said, “but his first response was, ‘Oh, I thought we were going to talk about games!'”
Wright wasn’t completely surprised. One of Wilson’s goals has been to “unify science with disciplines such as the humanities,” Wright said. “He is one of the few scientists who really has the guts to do that.”
So, asked by Wright about the role of games in education, Wilson said:
“I’ll go to an even more radical position,” Wilson said. “I think games are the future in education. We’re going through a rapid transition now. We’re about to leave print and textbooks behind.”
Wilson imagines students taking visits through the virtual world to different ecosystems. “That could be a rain forest,” he said, “a tundra — or a Jurassic forest.”
Wilson said that for the most part, we are teaching children the wrong way. According to the biologist, “When children went out in Paleolithic times, they went with adults and they learned everything they needed to learn by participating in the process.”
That’s the way the human mind is programmed to learn, Wilson said.
But he believes that today, virtual reality can be a steppingstone to the real world. It can motivate a child to exploration.
Wilson had a very different experience growing up. He explored the real world — and its creatures and plants — from a very young age. He credits his permissive parents and the schools he attended for allowing him to “disappear” into the forest.
“No one knew what I was doing,” he said.
Wilson is now studying the origins of altruistic behavior, taking his cue from Paul Gauguin: “Where did we come from? Who are we? Where are we going?” An education system that produces that kind of curiosity is the one I want for kids today.
Such ideas aren’t new to most of us, but it’s encouraging to hear them nudge their way towards conventional wisdom.