Joshua A.C. Newman, Educating Despite Education

Research Interests; Hopes & Prognostications

My work has focused on creating games as engineered social experiences between players. Such designs assume that players (and interactive elements of the environment) are each agents composed of:

  • desires that are incompatible (or only partially compatible) with those of
    other agents
  • resources that function as a communication medium between agents and their environment
  • methods with which to unreliably attain that desire

From this perspective, we can simulate the material causes and effects of moral and ethical decision-making, giving players the opportunities to make meaningful, nonfatal choices based on imperfect information. It is my hypothesis that this is a primary method of learning among humans; that both educational systems that discourage failure, and “gamification” systems that preclude play, prevent humans from optimizing their organization of mind.

(You can see the slides from a 2014 Penn State Altoona lecture I gave entitled, Game Design in Human Society: The Game Designer as Anthropologist over here.)

This is the area I take the most interest in and would like to further explore. From economics to ethics, I’m confident that relationships between players can be arranged such that they will act according to their abstractly constructed interests over those of the players themselves. This can give us a glimpse into real world decision-making processes and, along the way, generate popular, accessible tools for empathetic understanding.

The play of games is only a part of this experiment. I strongly suspect that a curriculum of constant, iterating, experimental design and creation of games can stand as a central pillar in a pedagogy of play.

Such a pedagogy could foster empathy and reason in parallel, as well as providing concrete ways to learn about any complex interaction of forces.

I would like to develop an educational process incorporating a critique/create/critique feedback loop derived from creative writing and fine art techniques. If we assume that students will be able to uncover questions and explore their the answers through design, creation, and play, then by designing experiences of play students may become able to pose questions with their rules, encouraging their players to answer them as they take action in the games. In my teaching experiences, my experiments in that process has yielded some very promising results in the form of six games per student each semester (many of them collaborative projects) and substantial development of the creative and critical faculties of the students. I strongly suspect that this pedagogy is applicable from childhood through adulthood.

It is my hope that I can continue to develop this process to instigate the kinds of creativity we require as we leave the industrial economy behind for our very weird future.