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What’s the Role of Gaming in Education?

Kevin Donovan

Whether violent affairs like the much-villified Grand Theft Auto series or more complex games such as the best-selling World of Warcraft, video games can seem bewildering to the unacquainted. Levels? Cheat codes? Orcs? Certainly there cannot be much within the flashing and beeping to excite educators, right? But in the past few years, the tides have started to turn from dismissing, or even rejecting, video games, to exploring and embracing how they can be used to educate students around the globe.

It turns out, after all, that even gaming for pure entertainment brings about benefits: neurological studies have shown improvements in players’ peripheral vision and ability to focus. Jane McGonigal is one of the most eloquent proponents of using games to meet serious challenges like educating the next generation. In her recent TED Talk, she outlines four characteristics of gamers:

  • Urgently optimistic about their ability to make a difference,
  • Builders of strong social capital,
  • Capable of being productive while truly enjoying their task, and
  • Attached to meeting important tasks.

In short, gamers are “super-empowered hopeful individuals” and McGonigal wants to use the activity to meet global challenges. As it turns out, this is already happening. In September, the New York Times Magazine profiled a public school in New York City that is placing video games front in center in the curriculum:

“A game, as Salen sees it, is really just a “designed experience,” in which a participant is motivated to achieve a goal while operating inside a prescribed system of boundaries and rules. In this way, school itself is one giant designed experience.”

In this month’s EduTech Debate, we’ll be discussing the role for games in education. To begin, Bob Hawkins, of the World Bank Institute (WBI), will discuss EVOKE, an online game supported by infoDev and WBI that brought together thousands of young people around the globe to meet social challenges. Following that, and in keeping with our recent discussion of mobile phones, Thomas Putz will discuss the mGBL project. Further discussants will be announced shortly.

6 Responses to “What’s the Role of Gaming in Education?”

  1. This is a fascinating and rapidly expanding field. It is also important to include the branch of this area that includes adults, particularly for literacy training and therapeutic recovery programs. A representative of Posit Science could add valuable insight in this debate: http://www.positscience.com/

  2. Not too long ago, our local news broadcast had a news item titled (paraphrased and translated) "Young people spend a lot of time playing [computer] games", obviously with an urgent tone about this being not good. Nothing unusual, I have seen a lot of this type of news stories.

    But if you read it, it is actually complaining about children playing. Which is ridiculous. Somehow, education is seen to be about preventing children from playing and forcing them to work, and work as early as possible. But there is not antagonism between learning and playing. The whole point of children playing is about exercising skills and learning.

    As Jane McGonigal so rightfully and entertainingly remarks, if you can get children to spend 10,000 hours working hard on something, they will become extremely good at it. So how can we entice them to make the work useful?

    The wrong approach would be to make games that are not fun, but simply work. Like, a game of Latin Grammar instead of an immersive game situated in Rome.

    I think ms McGonigal got the right approach. She wants to address high school students (and older). At this age, you want to improve and save the world. So games revolving around real, unsolved problems will attract players.

    But for the rest of education, how to include their goals? Spanish classes? History? Accounting? Mathematics? I think instruction is best kept in the classroom.

    The games should be complementary to the curriculum, but each child can play only so many games.

    So how can computer worlds be incorporated in education?

  3. The real challenge is integrating gaming in education is maintaining the relationship between teacher and student. A simulation game can disintermediate that relationship because the interaction is more with the game than it is with the teacher…We would have to find balance in how the student immerses themselves in the game and in actual class.

    However, I also think Jane McGonial is on the right approach when she says that educational gaming is best suited for the high school level. At that age group, teenagers want to start "getting serious" in terms of their ability to perform like adults. It's no wonder that simulation games are the preferred method of entertainment for ages 14-19.

    Imagine a simulation game that awards real students with potential employment when they graduate? For example, Boeing should have a commercial-flight simulation game offered to interested high school students. The winners should be eligible to be enrolled in a Boeing training program that could cultivate our future air pilots.

    If there's no incentive to play an educational game, then it will fail to spark the imagination and interest of our youth in playing these games.

  4. We must be clear between commercial gaming an simulation gaming. There are opposite realities.

    Commercial gaming such as Halo are the reverse of teaching reality, and quality of life. In a commercial game the child wins by the use of: magic, killing, destroying and cheating without consequences. Ironically none of this strategies work in real life. When we add five hours a day of this environment we gain a false sense of reality.

    And in the same dialog with gaming should be cyber addiction, teasing,, bulling and extreme violence.

    Even a teen who plays motocross game jumping and then hurts himself on real thirty foot jump soon discovers the difference between cyber physics and reality physics, such as my son in law did last week. Gaming can still present a false sense of reality such as youth that are in arms services soon find out in real combat.

    I t easy for parents and schools rationalize this off because of the "collaborative" aspects of kids hanging out together. Real gangs are also collaborative efforts.

    We need to be clear on what we put in the schools. It must teach how to create reality and not be a slave to false sense of reality or media hype. Case in point, our last war was presented to the public as a video game with no dead bodies, wounds or blood. Yet other news around the world did show the violence.

    Education needs to include how to understand the difference between fact and fiction. It also needs to educate them on how Gaming is a lie. If we don't we might have a generation that could be lead to believe a country has weapons of mass destruction when in fact it is a myth, Then actually go to real war against them! We would not want that to happen. Even if it did sell more games.

    • "When we add five hours a day of this environment we gain a false sense of reality. "

      I am not very worried about that. The same arguments have been made against fairy tales, comic books, cartoons, movies, and music. It never materialized.

      Personally, I think the cause is that people are hard wired to distinguish between narrative worlds and real people. If you encounter a situation you know from a game, movie, or book in real life, you immediately feel that every cell in your body reacts differently.

      For instance, visiting a virtual holiday destination has nothing in common with visiting the real place. You perceive them differently, you feel differently, and you act differently. The difference with people virtual vs Face2Face is even bigger.

  5. Well written and most informative. Helps us a lot. thanks -cool


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