As You Like It: Playing At Shakespeare

William Shakespeare was the son of John Shakespeare and Mary Arden. Shakespeare's mother was the daughter of a well-to-do landowner and the family gave its name to the nearby Forest of Arden.

The Forest of Arden is a setting in William Shakespeare's As You Like It. The play features one of Shakespeare's most famous and oft-quoted soliloquies, "All the world's a stage" and the phrase "too much of a good thing."

We are used to seeing Shakespeare in the classroom, and some of us are getting used to seeing gaming in the classroom. Should we be surprised to see Shakespeare gaming in the classroom?

"Arden: The World of William Shakespeare" is a project that was funded by the MacArthur Foundation's Digital Learning program.

The Synthetic Worlds Initiative at Indiana University conducts research on persistent immersive online spaces that host many users. SWI built a virtual worlds based on Shakespeare's works, but most of the SWI virtual worlds are really laboratories for social science experiments.

Arden was an odd case for them. They say that they "put too much emphasis on economic complexity, historical realism, and Shakespearean content, and players did not enjoy our world enough to stay in it. We therefore could not conduct any experiments."

So, what did they need to do to keep players interested for extended periods? Focus on good gameplay.

You can download Arden I, and enter the village where you can talk to Falstaff, play cards with Nym, and ask Shylock about markets. Sounds reasonable, but the problem, as SWI admits, was that players said it was "no fun at all." They say that "If you are thinking of building your own virtual world for education, collaboration, marketing, or some other serious purpose, you should download and experience Arden I to review an approach that, whatever its other merits, did not retain the attention of users."

There's also "Arden II: London's Burning" which is their "fun game" set in a medieval London that's on fire. There's rebellion, monsters, ghosts and you can help either the King or the Rebels. The game is loosely based on Richard III and there are some characters from the play.

"London's Burning" is more of the typical role-playing game. Remember, these weren't created to teach Shakespeare. They were created to conduct an experiment. In Arden II, it worked. 

You can try to replicate their results as reported in this research paper. For example, they found that the Law of Demand seems holds in fantasy environments, and they would like to see more controlled economic and social experiments in virtual worlds at greater scales of both population (thousands of users) and time (many months).

SWI is currently working on a new virtual world with the working title "Greenland."  This one is a multiplayer game about owning and managing land which they call a "PPE" for a Persistent Political Economy. They don't expect this one to be ready for a year or more.

Game on.


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