moving learning games forward
The notion of using video games for learning causes some to cringe, others to leap for joy, and many to ask questions about this learning medium. These questions often come from people and organizations that areconsidering delving into the world of learning games but don’t know if this is advisable or don’t know whereto start. The goal of this paper is to answer those questions about learning games and to help plot a path for people and organizations interested in developing or fostering the development of video games for learning.The paper starts by making a case for learning games grounded in principles of good fun and good learning.From there the paper explores the commercial games market, gleaning lessons from this rapidly growing and diversifying place. In order to address the concerns of those who see “edutainment” as a dead market, the pa- per analyzes the downfall of edutainment in the 1990s and establishes how the current movement differs. Asthere are many applications of games related (more or less) to learning games, the paper lays out the ecology of games with a purpose beyond play. Much of the rest of the paper establishes principles and best practicesfor moving the field forward in a positive direction. The paper should provide a good grounding in the field and both motivate and inform those wanting to participate in this rapidly growing domain.
A New Case for Educational Games and Learning through Play
Those who believe in using games in education usually start from a common set of assumptions. They observe thatgame player’s regularly exhibit persistence, risk-taking, attention to detail and problem solving skills, all behaviorsthat ideally would be regularly demonstrated in school. They also understand that game environments enable play-ers to construct understanding actively, and at individual paces, and that well-designed games enable players toadvance on different paths at different rates in response to each player’s interests and abilities, while also fosteringcollaboration and just-in-time learning.
Even starting with these shared notions, advocates for game-based learning tend to adopt one of two very differ-ent approaches to designing games for formal education. One group sees the skills students develop playinggames as essential to a 21
century education, and conversely see little progress happening in schools still shackledto a 19
century factory model. They focus on the habits of mind and dispositions needed to collaborate, innovate,problem-solve and communicate effectively in a knowledge-based economy. They observe with some accuracythat these skills can all be gained from engagement with commercial, off-the-shelf (COTS) games, or through socialnetworking, blogging, and other forms of user-generated content that fall under the larger banner of participatoryculture. They focus on these skills often to the exclusion of traditional academic subject matter, and at least insofaras game-based learning is concerned, they assume the institution of school is highly resistant to reform and findalternate venues and opportunities to foster learning. They imagine the important learning will take place outsideof school, and question what value school adds to the process. Clearly many COTS games provide opportunities forlearning. Examples vary from simulations such as
Roller Coaster Tycoon
that require planning, quantita-tive skills and significant analysis to Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Games (MMORPGs) like
World of Warcraft
, which promote communication, collaboration, and problem-solving skills.
Much has been written on this subject, but nowhere so comprehensively as in James Paul Gee’s
What Video Games Can Teach Us About Literacy and Learning