Friday, April 1

Where I disagree with George Lucas

No, this is not about Phantom Menace, Clones, or Revenge of the Sith.

I greatly appreciate how much George Lucas advocates educational simulations. But when he talks about the “immaculate reality,” the attention to the detail and cohesiveness of the simulated environment, the fear that a discordant factor will break the illusion and the learning, I have to disagree.

There are at least four key reasons:

Adding pedagogical details: Whether an onscreen graph or chart, or forced "advice" from a computer colleague, or even a screen telling you "congratulations," the adding of pedagogical elements on top of the simulation is critical to minimizing frusteration. Maybe these elements can be phased out over successive missions, but if they are not there, the students suffer.

Breaking reality delibrately: Whether training a pilot on a flight simulator, or learning to drive, there are great reasons for breaking reality. An instructor might take out three out of the four engines without warning, to see how the pilot reacts. Or, after successfully following the rules and completing a difficult assignment in a driving simulator, the player might be rewarded with a bonus section where gravity is only one tenth as strong for his or her car.

A focus on certain elements: One reason for a simulation is to narrow down the complexity of the system and the complexity of possible options. If someone wants a perfect simulation of a lemonade stand, I suggest they just go outside and open up a lemonade stand. If they want a perfect project management simulation, they should actually plan a party.

We are imperfect: No computer can yet perfectly create reality. Every new generation of technology shows us how incomplete the last generation was. That can't hold us back. The learning experience should be measured in how much better than previous approaches, not closeness to perfection. On top of that, once we can create a perfect simulation in any given situation, we should just automate the process to behave perfectly and get the human out of the loop.

We have to get better. We have to always be more accurate. We can get more complex. But to create this expectation, and to give traditionalists such a weapon, is more unforgivable than Jar Jar.