NPR’s Open Mic featured a fascinating discussion between two of my personal heroes, Will Wright and E.O. Wilson. Their overlap, naturally, was in ants, which were a personal fascination of mine since very young. I remember with great fondness that my roommates bought me SimAnt as a gift during my freshman year of college (it was also one of the few games for Mac back then), and I played the heck out of it, even though it wasn’t a terribly deep game.
Wilson is typically far-sighted in seeing video games as pointing the way to better education. While he imagines this future teaching centered on virtual reality, I continue to believe the greatest hope for learning will be in teaching systems-thinking, something that Wright has excelled at doing.
For Wilson, the greatest unanswered question in biology is “the origin of altruistic social behavior.” I suspect this question is what drew me to my interest in ants as a child: how these animals work together as a social organism to accomplish incredible tasks. And again this is the kind of concept that’s best conveyed via a video game – complex interactions among many small parts, as well as the ability to switch perspectives to take the point of view of one of those parts. I’d love to see Wright take on this grand task that Wilson has laid out: can altruism be the basis of a fun, exciting, blockbuster game?
Read/listen to the story: Ant Lovers Unite! Will Wright and E.O. Wilson on Life and Games.