I watched today’s episode of Extra Credits about “game-ifying” eduction, and they brought up a concept of “agency” which I was unfamiliar with in the context it was being used. What immediately sprang to mind was the term “free agent.” A free agent is an athlete who isn’t under contract and can therefore choose to sign on with any team (or league, or whatever). This isn’t how Extra Credits used the term, so I started checking dictionaries and Wikipedia to learn more.

I found the term that I think they were using listed under Sociology on Wikipedia, which is defined as “the capacity of individuals to act independently and to make their own free choices.” Obviously, this is an example of the “tangential learning” Extra Credits has referred to in previous episodes, as my curiosity on this subject led me to reading about various uses of the word agency, and so on, and so forth.

In my search, I also happened across this interesting quote by Rousseau…

“Every animal has ideas, since it has senses; it even combines those ideas in a certain degree; and it is only in degree that man differs, in this respect, from the brute. Some philosophers have even maintained that there is a greater difference between one man and another than between some men and some beasts. It is not, therefore, so much the understanding that constitutes the specific difference between the man and the brute, as the human quality of free agency. Nature lays her commands on every animal, and the brute obeys her voice. Man receives the same impulsion, but at the same time knows himself at liberty to acquiesce or resist.”
— Jean-Jacques Rousseau

…which basically talks about the same thing. It’s this idea of making decisions based on the information you have available. Rousseau makes it nice and simple here, by putting “the decision” in 1/0 terms, either putting up or shutting up … that sort of thing, while your day-to-day activities are generally more complex than that.

The Sims is a great way to explore the concept, as you are effectively the agency of your characters, and what you want to do is controlled by the “wants” and “needs” of your Sims. You have tools to achieve your goals, and you have to balance the needs of your characters to reach your goals.