I have friends and family who really enjoy the boardgame Risk. We had the game as a kid and I would play with it, but not by the “rules.” I made my own game by moving pieces around and rolling the dice from time to time. The map both fascinated and confused me (Alberta goes all the way to the Pacific Ocean?) and the colorful little pieces inspired several different games. A map is a natural game board.
Fast-forward to the present: computer games have become ubiquitous (Ever kill time playing a game on your computer or phone?) and we rely on Google maps and GPS devices to get us to where we want to go.
Fast-forward to the future: Computer applications that we interact with are beginning to mash up GIS and other data. (Ever check in to a real place using Foursquare or Facebook?) Games are no exception.
Imagine playing Risk with the borders and armies from 100 or 1000 years ago. Or Monopoly based on real utilities and real estate values. Or Farmville with real agricultural data. Or Oregon Trail with weather and census data from specific dates throughout history.
Ola Ahlqvist, a professor of Geography at Ohio State, is involved in a project to build the infrastructure to make these kinds of games possible. I’ve talked with Ola several times about his games, but his presentation below is a pretty good summary of the process.
This is a great example of learning through games and simulations. Players can see how different factors affect the outcome of the game — develop hyphotheses, then change their strategy for playing the game to test them. Of course, this is how learning occurs outside of games, but by making a game out of a real map, the learning becomes more compelling.