concepts than the traditional classroomstudents, showed higher engagement,and demonstrated increased intrinsic
(Arici, 2008; Hickey et al., inpress). When these groups were testedtwo months later, the students wholearned through the virtual gameremembered more science content thanthe traditionally taught students did(Arici, 2008).As one teacher who used the fractionsunit in Quest Atlantis's math worldnoted:
The kids [were]not [acting as] 5thgraders. They had a task. They had amission, and anytime you
invite thekids to be something other than astudent, you're going to automatically seemotivational gains. There's a lot moreperseverance. There was a lot of readingto be done, but kids were sticking with it.
handed them a textbook,
would notsee the same endurance.
Our virtual quests expand on strate-gies associated with project-basedcurriculums. We focus on buildinggame-based learning environments inwhich students play an important role,using academic knowledge to makedecisions that influence, for better orworse, the designed storyline. Thus,these virtual spaces transform learnersin three ways:
they transform aperson from a passive recipient to anempowered actor, (2) they transformcontent from information that thelearner has to remember to a tool thatthe learner can use to accomplishdesired ends, and
hey transformcontext from an assurance that "thisknowledge will be relevant in thefuture" to a present reality that respondsto the learner's actions.
We can best illustrate our approachthrough an example of how studentsinteract within one of our virtualworlds, Digital Prometheus.Our instructional goal in this unitwas to foster persuasive writing byimmersing students in ethical dilemmasinspired by Mary Shelley's
Once teachers assign the unit to theirclass, students can travel to a villagenamed Ingolstadt. As they interact withlocal villagers, they develop a positionabout whether the local doctor
Frank) should be allowed to create anartificial life form in the hopes of findinga cure for the plague afflicting the town.Let's look at how playlng Dig~talPrometheus engages students in inter-travel through town. As playersencounter characters, each player caninterview them about what has beenhappening. Each character respondswith a programmed script describingthat person's experiences with theplague and givlng an opinion about Dr.Frank's effort to stop the epidemic.The core tension is that
doclorhas created a living creature; he is exper-imenting on that creature with the
IGURE 2. Screenshots from the Digital Prometheus Game
esting problems, makes curriculumcontent relevant, and teaches studentsthat their content-influenced actionshave consequences.
Establishing a Meaningful Role
Transformational play begins with ascenario that sets a goal. This motivatesplayers and demands a deep under-standing of content. In DigitalPrometheus, each player first reads aletter sent to his in-game e-mail from hisor her mother, pleading with the playerto visit Ingolstadt, which is beingdestroyed by a plague. The message asksthe player to talk to Dr. Frank and thelocal newspaper editor.Using onscreen menus, players enterIngolstadt and directtheir avatars to
The top scenes represent what the virtual village looks like if
player frees the crea-ture; the bottom scenes, the outcome if the creature remains captive.
hopes oEfinding a cure. The player's roleas a persuasive writer is establishedwhen the editor of the paper asks himor her to build an argument aboutwhether or not the doctor's behavior isethical. Succeeding in this role requiresthat the player understand and applypersuasive-writing skills to collectappropriate evidence and compose apersuasive piece of writing.
Seeing That Content Matters
Knowledge connected to disciplines-such as investigative research andwriting-serves as one of the mostfundamental tools for making sense ofthe world and acting effectively in it.In Digital Prometheus, as playersinterview citizens, they can store any 10