Every week at my company Persuasive Games we get repeated calls and emails from people interested in playing Stone City, the Cold Stone Creamery training game we created back in 2005. In the game, the player services customers at the popular mix-your-own flavor ice cream franchise by assembling the proper concoctions while allocating generally profitable portion sizes.
The vast majority of people who contact us are not human resources managers or training executives looking to build their own training games. They are ordinary people, often young people, who just want to play or buy the game.
You’d never expect such interest if you read Justin Peters’ recent Slate article about educational games. As Peters charges, “Animating mindless, boring repetition doesn't make the repetition any less mindless or boring. No sane Cold Stone employee will be fooled into thinking that Stone City is anything other than a soul-crushing training exercise.”
Why, then, would so many people be so interested in the game? Perhaps some are misconceived teenagers yet to have been disillusioned by a soul-crushing job. Perhaps others are as smart and skeptical as Peters suspects they might be, and they want to see how possible workplaces represent their expectations for labor. But my sense is that most of them just like ice cream, are intrigued by the Cold Stone work experience, and want to have a go at it for a few minutes.
Where is the disconnect? For one part, Peters’ expectations are very high. As he explains in the article, Peters’ ideal model for educational games is Civilization, Sid Meier’s classic game about building a society based on scarcity of resources. There is no doubt that Civ is a great game, one that any designer could learn from no matter their expressive goals. And Peters is right that there is considerable educational potential in this kind of game; Kurt Squire, a well-regarded education scholar, even made it the topic of his doctoral dissertation.
For another part, Civilization is just one kind of game. It is a kind of game that demands significant commitment and devotion. It is a gamer’s kind of game. Are the would-be players of Stone City just too stupid or inexperienced to know about the much more complex and sophisticated kinds of games that they could get their hands on instead? I don’t think so. I bet many of them play Civ as well. I think they are looking for a different kind of experience, one that might not have as much to do with video games as it does with ice cream shops.