Myst-like Universities, Oxford-like Games?

I've been thinking about education, "edutainment" and games, with special reference to Myst-type games, Glass Bead Games and Universities not unlike my own alma mater, Oxford...

Here are some preliminary ideas...

Charles Cameron


I: Proposal

There is no reason why the books in a MYST-like game shouldn't be real books.

Yeah? So?

There is no reason why studying the books in a MYST-like game to gain access to the information needed to "solve puzzles" within the game structure and gain access to more advanced levels of the game should be any different from studying the same books in an OXFORD-like university to gain access to the information needed to "pass exams" within the academic structure and gain access to more advanced levels of knowledge...

There is no reason why education and game should not merge. OXFORD is a walk-thru MYST, and the puzzles are exams. Education is Game, the supreme Game of life itself.

The only thing needed to make the future of computer game playing and the future of computer education one thing is a concept of gaming which extends as far as the concept of education -- and Hermann Hesse's Glass Bead Game does this.

A future Glass Bead Game with Myst-like properties could encompass the entirety of education, because (a) unlike chess it deals in the sum of human culture and knowledge while (b) its own skills involve a chess-like mastery: its game aspect stretches as high as its knowledge base.

We already know from such things as Sesame Street that learning about "fiveness" can take place at the intersection of education and entertainment, with a kangaroo bouncing five oranges on a trampoline and gleefully calling out "five, five". We suspect that at this level, the entertainment element adds to the student's interest in learning.

We also suspect that at higher levels of learning, entertainment quite naturally gives way to the "more important" educational element. No need to entertain, the subject itself fascinates...

But Feynmann -- the Nobel Prize man, the drummer, the CalTech fellow -- entertains while he educates, educates while he entertains: it's an aspect of the nature of his genius...

The future of education lies in a Game involving mastery in the acquiring and manipulating of knowledges, both in depth within individual disciplines, and in breadth across them. This is the future of the Glass Bead Game...

It is stored on megacomputers. It is accessible through cable lines coming into your home. It is displayed on your new hi-res TV screen. Think of a terabyte holographic storage device which could transfer info in or out a gigabyte per second... Its architecture contains "rooms" at all levels of learning from K through post doctoral, in all subject areas. Any student of whatever age can access any "room" to which he has solved the "prerequisite" puzzles. The "rooms" contain a massive library of "books" and an equally impressive video library...

Imagine a world in which the very best classes taught at Harvard, Yale, MIT, CalTech, Stanford, Oxford, Cambridge, Heidelberg, the Sorbonne are accessible on the web in video form...

Imagine a world in which students can supplement their "live" classes with access to a virtual environment of this sort...

The arts -- at the level of a Mozart, a Bach, a Yeats, a Shakespeare, a Leonardo, a Michelangelo -- are games. Creative play with a very high order of skill...

Imagine the Great Game...

II: Background

That's the main thrust of where I'm going, but it may help if I add in some background, in the form of the following notes:

I am wondering about a number of "threads" that seem to come together somewhere hereabouts:

(i) a recent effort in California to put together all the information in a "geography" curriculum from kindergarten through -- I think -- the second year of college on videodisks, in such a way that a student of any age could move as far and as fast through it as his/her ability to give "correct" answers to the quizzes along the way permitted...

(ii) the notion that large film archives such as those maintained by the studios may in the not too distant future be accessible on-line, with real time delivery along fiber optic "phone" cable for display on the "tv" screen...

(iii) the notion that all the classes in, say, Harvard, Yale, Stanford, MIT, CalTech, Oxford, Cambridge, Heidelberg... could be videotaped, also in the not too distant future, and be made available in a similar fashion...

(iv) efforts to put large libraries online in toto: I gather from an IBM commercial (!), for instance, that the Indiana musicological library is now available to the daughters of Italian vineyard owners over the net...

Putting these all together, I see the possibility of computers storing and delivering enough in the way of first class lectures and libraries to allow students of whatever age to move as far and as fast through self-education as their interest and capacity to pass quizzes permits...

III: Invitation

The "proposal" and "background" above, taken together, represent the thinking I've done so far, and the direction I hope to take -- they're my personal "state of the art" on all this. I suspect there are people already working on many of the ideas that go into this mix -- but that the overall vision here is a "gourmet" version, and that we'll get pretty thin soup if we leave it to people outside the GBG environment to do all the cooking.

There's further background on the origins of Myst-like games in the classical Art of Memory in my piece The Mysts of Antiquity.

Please feel free to contact me if you are interested in discussing these ideas in more detail.


Charles Cameron


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