Jane McGonagal spent her TED Talk discussing how video games can be applied to real
world scenarios that could help society to brainstorm ways to challenge today’s world problems.
She uses the popular game, World of War Craft (WWC), to explain her proposal. McGonagal
extracts four main constructive skills that gamers become expert at through interacting with the
virtual world. These four skills are as follow:
1. Urgent Optimism: Extreme self motivation and a desire to act immediately to tackle an
obstacle that we believe is achievable.
2. Social Fabric: Takes a lot of trust for people to comfortably interact with people. When
playing a game you are wholly trusting those involved and building strong positive
3. Blissful Creativity: We’re happier working hard than we are relaxing.
4. Epic Meaning: Attached to awe inspiring missions.
McGonagal further claims that these four skills come together to “create super empowered
hopeful individuals!” She parallels the drive of these “super empowered hopeful individuals” to
the average personal drive in real life. While we express dedication, optimism, and self belief in
the virtual realm, we seem to suffer from lacking inspiration and motivation to instigate and
follow through with healthy changes in reality. We also typically lack the effort to cooperate and
collaborate, qualities that are crucial to real world change in today’s increasingly global society.
McGonagal continues to support the gap in involvement between reality and games by
again referencing WWC. She point out that players will fail, but get up and try again. They will
stick to a problem until it is accomplished, and come to the aid of others without hesitation. It is
these qualities that McGonagal seeks to find a transfer of the gamer mentality to accomplish real
life problems.
McGonagal stresses “Epic Wins” as the most addictive and intriguing factor of gaming.
She defines epic wins as outcomes that are “so extraordinary positive you had no idea it was
possible until you achieved it.” Epic wins are the ultimate outcome that gamers want to
experience when playing WWC, and they do so through skill, dedication, collaboration, and
inspiration. Epic wins demand deep focus and valuing a problem as ‘important.’ Epic wins come
about through not only achieving all of those factors, but also from spending so much time
working at it/engaged with it. By the age of 21, most gamers have spent 10,000 hours playing
virtual games. Gladwell’s book, Outliers, defines the achievement of expertise as spending
10,000 hours on something. Its estimated that our society is going to include 1.5 billion prodigal
game players by the end of the next decade. This amount of people spending such a huge amount
of time playing video games posses an astronomical opportunity. JM brings to light the
possibilities that lie in somehow transferring all of these hours and expertise to be applied
towards real world epic wins.
After listening to McGonagal’s TED Talk a few times, we were able to start drawing
strong correlations between her ideas for using games to strengthen our capability to creatively
carry out solutions to world problems like hunger, environment, and resources to generate an
idea of how games could be implemented in a classroom to cultivate more interest in and
retainment of education. Below is a compilation of the areas we felt that games implemented in
an educational environment could revamp our school systems.
B 1. Games have the tendency to become addictive. Study. If developed correctly, games could
provide that ‘hook’ for students that is sometimes so difficult to achieve as an educator. I have
been spending the past few months observing and interacting with a ninth grade English class at
Point Loma High. One of the biggest realizations I have taken away from the experience so far is
that the teacher has to constantly provide reasoning in order to convince students that what she
has planned in the 50 minutes she has with them is worth their time, effort, energy, and attention.
We can’t expect students to truly internalize information and knowledge if we do not promote
motivation. Once we have sparked motivation in students, we are more likely to gain their
commitment, dedication, and investment in the game and in their own educations.
2. Current discussion in my curriculum & methods class further strengthens J.M.’s theory and the
proposition for integrating virtual games in to classrooms. Blank and other researchers stress the
importance of “authentic” education. They argue that students will not gain from spending 6
hours a day, 5 days a week, 10 months a year sitting through school lessons that fail to provide
real world application, personal interest, and relevance to other subjects students are expected to
be learning. (An example of a game that could cover all three of these crucial areas is explained
below). A creatively and carefully developed game embodies the ability to give learning a
purpose in students’ minds.
3. Purpose behind education and validation of students efforts and abilities is crucial in
convincing them that the 50 or so minutes they spend in our classroom every day are worth their
time. It will be difficult to motivate students to study a list of vocabulary words if they see no
connection to the outside world and their real lives. However, if we can implement a game that
provides real world scenarios and opportunities for students to contribute to their solutions then
we will most likely be able to deepen their interest in and internalization of education.
4. Character development also plays a large part within these video games. Students will learn
how to interact with other students (from their school and other schools as well), empathy,
creating new bonds, working as a team, responsibility, respect, and confidence. Although many
people look past this aspect when playing video games, it can help even the shyest student gain
more confidence and responsibility. For a student who may have not wanted to interact with
other students in class, they now have the opportunity to digitally respond to other kids and work
together without being physically present. All students learn in different ways, and video games
can provide many opportunities for students to grow. By giving students different options, you
are allowing each student to shine in their own way. We can assume that not all students will
have tremendous amount of growth academically or within their character, but it will have
surprising effects on some students.
5. Playing video games as an educational tool for learning follows the constructivist teaching
philosophy. Constructivist teaching philosophy allows students learn through cognitive processes
and not by receiving information that is being recited by their teachers. One method that
constructivist teachers use is to encourage their students to work together to talk about solutions
that they have found. By having the students work together, they build off their own existing
knowledge and communicate with each other to gain new knowledge. The video games that J.M.
discussed at the end of her TED talk had elements of collaboration that allowed students to help
one another with different ideas and methods of how to succeed in the game. Her games were
another example that learning doesn't need to be lecture based and there are many different
opportunities for learning to occur. Video games also give students the time to gradually learn
(and master) certain skills and knowledge. Instead of having a time frame within a classroom,
children can take their time to explore the game and learn at their own pace. A constructivist
approach to learning states that everyone learns differently, whether in the amount of time it
takes to learn or how they are processing the new information. Video games provide those
opportunities for students to learn in different ways.
Lastly, J.M. talks about the amount of responsibility that a kid takes on when playing
video games. This responsibility comes from taking on these epic challenges, where they are
responsible for saving the Earth or whatever it may be. These epic challenges then lead to epic
wins. The students have so much that they hold on their shoulders within these games, that they
build up this confidence and responsibility to perform well. This type of thinking can again be
applied to a constructivist theory. As they are learning things throughout the game, they are
adding on more new knowledge and then being asked to perform based on their knowledge. As a
player, they must be responsible for the amount of information they have accumulated and then
apply their knowledge to the new tasks ahead of them. Clements (1997) solidifies this idea by
explaining that student’s jobs become more than just completing a task but instead to “making
sense of and communicate what is being taught...students become responsible for their
learning” (p. 2)
6. Educational video games are a great way for children to become comfortable using computers
and technology. Moving forward into the future, it is important for children to have that
knowledge about technology because they will continue to be asked to use all different types of
media in their everyday lives and their future careers. Technology standards are woven into the
California State Standards for students to learn to help them navigate through technology with
ease. Playing an educational video game is just another great way they can practice their
computer and typing skills.
7. Virtual games in the classroom could also spread awareness about current global news, issues,
conflicts, and other information that many young people are secluded from today. Students
would also be able to connect with other peers around the world providing opportunities to
expand perspectives, understanding, acceptance, and social connections.
9. Jim Burke dedicates a chapter of his book regarding his philosophy of education in the English
classroom to the importance of cultivating a story within lessons and assignments. There is so
much constant information in today’s world that being able to structure a good story is a crucial
skill for students to learn if they aim to find success. Like the rest of society, students will also be
more likely to be attracted to stories. Therefore, we can use stories to interest students in
education. Still, this is not always simple to integrate into our everyday units. Thankfully games
are built on foundations of stories! Gamers become engrossed in game plot lines, especially
those that are virtually based. Knowing that games have strong potential for cultivating inspiring
stories and that stories are crucial to maintaining our students’ focus, it seems obvious for
teachers to implement educational virtual games in their classrooms.
10. Feedback is extremely important in a student’s education, but it is not always provided in
large standardized classes that rely solely on grades and points to ‘rate’ children’s ability.
However, without feedback our students do not have opportunities to improve their academic
skills. Feedback is also crucial because it helps students to feel validated and cared for, two
characteristics that I believe are necessary in a classroom environment. Feedback can be
personalized to particular learning styles and personalities allowing students to derive greater
benefit from the practice (as opposed to the generic lack of personalized information provided by
a grade). Finally, feedback can be a source of motivation for students. Games not only provide
personalized feedback, but produce a constant and instant stream of feedback! the consistency
and timeliness of feedback through games is difficult for a teacher to match, even when he or she
directs immense energy into the task. Feedback from games can be a helpful supplement for
teachers who have 150+ students a day. (We can never provide TOO much motivation for
11. Games can cover many interdisciplinary subjects. Even though the topic of a game may focus
on one thing (i.e.The Oregon Trail), there are many things that are also associated within that
topic and playing the game. Let’s take the game, The Oregon Trail (see 14). Here children are
asked to find the best route to take while making their journey to Oregon. Children are asked to
read a map and figure out the weather patterns of each route. Just in that one small task, they are
a. history (the routes of the Oregon Trail)
b. geography (reading the map)
c. science (weather patterns)
d. reading comprehension (reading and researching about the routes)
e. computers (how to use the game as well as using the controls on the computer)
It’s amazing how multifaceted educational games can be. To link back to the McGonigal TED
talk, she was mentioning at the end of her lecture about some of the educational games she was
creating for students. In one of her games titled Super Struct, an imaginary computer has
calculated that humans only have 23 years to live planet Earth. In this epic adventure game,
players are invited to figure out the future of energy, food, health, security, and the social safety
net. After an eight week test period, players discovered 500 different creative ideas of how to
thrive on Earth through this looming apocalypse. Those 500 different ideas spanned across topics
that covered things like science, health, and government and politics.Even though we’re not
currently dealing with an actual looming apocalypse, it gives students a chance to use their
critical thinking skills in many different areas to solve a problem.
12. Implementing virtual games in the classroom can also help to bring back some of the
creativity that has been devalued and minimized in our school systems. Ken Robinson’s critique
of our current grading systems and theories on how to transform education into a more beneficial
and desired element of our lives stems from the need to grant students opportunities to exercise
their creative abilities. Virtual games can provide a perfect balance of guidance, typically through
a set theme (i.e. Sims Paradise Island, Sims University, Sims in the Future), while still allowing
for plenty of student choice, opinion, and responsibility. Sparking a higher level of creativity in
the classroom through games can also help to boost opportunities and depth of critical thinking,
which is a huge concept of interest and importance in the new Common Core Standards.
13. Intrinsic motivation can also be achieved through virtual games. Students are pushed by their
own interest in the game and desire to reach higher levels and new solutions. As McGonagal
frames intrinsic motivation cultivated by games, “We’re happier working hard at a game than
relaxing.” If her statement holds any water, we could drastically benefit from transferring this
same inspiration and enjoyment into education by integrating games. Intrinsic motivation
provided through games also helps to bring more depth to critical thinking skills, which we
previously labeled necessary in our 21st C. curriculums.
14. Games are a great disguise for learning. When we were in third grade, a wonderful game was
introduced to our classes called Oregon Trail. It was an interactional game that allowed students
to act as if they were embarking on the Oregon Trail. Students had to make choices about food
they brought, the route they took, and who was joining them on their journey. Little did we know
at the time, but while playing this game we were learning massive amounts of information about
the Oregon Trail. A game is a great way to help students learn about anything. It’s an added
bonus that the educational game is played on the computer. Learning doesn’t always need to be
boring, it can be disguised as something fun too!
C. Virtual Classroom
Using the principles that we’ve explained above, we have developed a virtual
computer game that will help students to understand that their daily choices can affect the
environment. It will be similar structure to a Sims computer game where students will have to
make choice about the houses they build, food they buy, jobs they hold, cars they drive, and
other means of transportation. Each green decision will extend the player’s life on earth while
each polluting decision will decrease lifetime within the game as well as the earth’s own
Some choices within the game that players must make include:
A. building material
B. options for sustainable living (i.e. solar panels, wind energy, etc)
C. electric cars verse cars that require gas or diesel
D. bike, walk, bus, or drive to work/etc
E. buying local groceries
F. whether or not you recycle your trash or not
G. using reusing bags and water bottles over plastic
H. participating in volunteer opportunities (i.e. beach cleanups)
To start, a player would build within their local environment. Once they have mastered
that level, the player can venture out into larger realms of society. Once a player has mastered
these lower levels they can grow into being an ambassador for their community, nation,
continent, etc where they will be given different issues and tasks to creatively and sustainable
influence other people around them (in the game).
Students who participate will keep a short blog reflecting on their green choices and their
positive and negative consequences. To link this learning to real world scenarios and provide
more purpose/reasoning for this particular lesson, students will work in small groups to create a
community service project that can be carried out in their games and then integrated into their
own communities. An example would be students planning and organizing a beach cleanup,
figuring out ways to pass on its information to the community, and following through with the