The Play's the Thing: The Arden 'Failure' and the Future of the Educational Games Movement

Elizabeth Losh


This paper looks at a self-described "failure" in the educational videogames movement and what the principal investigator has characterized as a fundamental conflict between the game's pedagogical objectives and "fun." It argues that the learning vs. fun dichotomy is only one way to think about the basic questions about game design raised by Arden: The World of William Shakespeare and by educational videogames more generally. In recent years, other development teams have also attempted to translate Shakespeare into videogame formats, but have failed to execute a game that has been deemed a success by the public and by educators. This paper explores the ongoing thought experiment about how Shakespeare's works could be used to construct rule sets that represent Shakespeare's aesthetics, ethics, epistemology, or phenomenology. It also considers how the procedural rhetoric of videogame genres relate to issues about adaptation and performance. This paper suggests that Arden was not so much a failure as a missed opportunity to engage with the full range of possibilities implied by taking computer games seriously and treating the medium as deserving the gravitas traditionally given to the dramatic arts.