One Laptop Per Child fans probably know that today is the first day of the Give One Get One program. Donate $US 399 to provide an XO laptop to a child in a developing country, and you'll also get one for the developing child in your house. $US 200 of the donation is even tax-deductible.
Last week EA announced that they are donating the original SimCity for use on the OLPC. Don Hopkins, who did the Unix, Linux, and now OLPC ports of SimCity, recently published his thoughts about how the new version of the game might allow kids to modify the underlying simulation model.
Here are some ideas about applying Seymour Papert's philosophy of "Constructionist Education" to SimCity, by integrating it with the OLPC's "Sugar" user interface and Python-based scripting system. ... The goals of deeply integrating SimCity with Sugar are to focus on education and accessibility for younger kids, as well as motivating and enabling older kids to learn programming, in the spirit of Seymour Papert's work with Logo. It should be easy to extend and re-program SimCity in many interesting ways. For example: kids should be able to create new disasters and agents (like the monster, tornado, helicopter and train), and program them like Logo's turtle graphics or Robot Odyssey's visual robot programming language!
The long term goal is to refactor the code so it can be scripted and extended in Python, and break out reusable general purpose components like the tile engine, sprite engine, etc, so kids can use them to build their own games, or create plug-ins and modify the graphics and behaviour of SimCity.
SimCity has been a target of many criticisms over the years for the black box nature of its simulation. Science studies scholar Sherry Turkle and policy expert Paul Starr both worried about how kids might take the game's model of urban policy as unquestioned fact. SimCity does have some quirks. It's very good at modelling American-style cities with sprawl and low taxes. But it also rewards heavy investments in mass transit. It will be interesting to see if different international perspectives actually lead to new versions of the game.