Most people are well aware of the violence found in some video games, but less people know about games that can bring about positive change. Serious Games, described as a new movement in gaming whose purpose to “raise awareness, instruct a new generation of good citizens, create new business models, train military personnel, or model surgery for doctors,” is one such breed.
Michelle Boule, Social Sciences Librarian at University of Houston, writes an interesting article on Serious Games that gives several examples of fascinating games that produce public awareness on various issues. These games include:
optical communicationsDarfur is Dying(mtvU and Reebok Human Rights Foundation). A Flash-based game that promotes awareness about the genocide in Darfur. Players take on the role of a villager in Darfur and try to survive by foraging for water without being captured and killed Janjuweed. One soon realizes how dire the conditions are; you can’t really win, and that’s ultimately the point.
Escape From Diab. This is a game that is meant to teach kids how to eat healthy. One plays a healthy youth who becomes trapped in Diab, a land where everyone eats exclusively junk food.
Planet Green Game (Starbucks). This game creates an awareness of how one can change his or her lifestyle to slow global warming. One travels through aгардероби fantasy city and finds ways to decrease CO2 emissions.
The Sims has sold over 40 million copies, and some reports say that 60-70% of players are women. Girls have frequently been said as enjoying “social” games, games with good storylines, and games that support creativity. “Pink” software titles have been produced — in some cases with great success — such as Barbie Fashion Designer, a huge seller in 1997 that outsold Quake and Myst. However, do titles that rely on traditional female stereotypes necessarily good for gender equity? Or do these games partly contribute to a self fulfilling prophecy where society perpetuates the stereotype that girl gamers are only of a certain type?
Food for thought: 39% of all gamers are women according to the Entertainment Software Association (2004). In fact, more women over 18 are now playing games than young boys between the ages 6 and 17 (26% compared to 21%). Games like World of Warcraft, with many elements that can be characterized as male (e.g. fighting), have an estimated 30% female players. Maybe game designers and researchers shouldn’t be so quick to decide how girls will play games.
John Kirriemuir and Angela McFarlane (2003) wrote a survey-based conference paper on how “pure” computer and video games (that is, games that are not explicitly designed to be educational) tend to beÂ used in classrooms.
Kirriemuir and McFarlane report that games are typically used in five ways: (1) research projects, although hardly any schools continued to use the games after the projects ended; (2) school-oriented competitions; (3) computer clubs that are largely unsupervised and not part of a learning program; (4) a vehicle for literacy or critique (that is, describing or evaluating games); or (5) a reward or incentive to maintain good behavior.
The most common games used in classrooms were reported to be strategy and simulation games. SimCity and Roller Coaster Tycoon were the two most commonly used… Continue reading →
James Paul Gee (2004) devotes a chapter to “affinity spaces” — online and/or face to face interactive spaces consisting of people held together because of shared activities, interests, and goals — in his book, Situated Language and Learning: A Critique of Traditional Schooling. Affinity spaces are sustained by fans of all sorts of things (e.g. comic books, movies, celebrities), including video games. For video games, these include the enormous number of websites of all kinds — sites featuring tips and strategies, artwork and fan fiction, game patches and modding resources, and all the other kinds of online and offline interactions centered around a game (e.g. World of Warcraft, Lineage, etc.). Gee notes eleven defining features of an affinity space:
A common endeavor is primary, not aspects such as race, class, gender, or disability that can often hinder communication.
Newbies, masters, and everyone else share common space
Some portals are strong generators (whatever gives the space some content)
Content organization is transformed by interactional organization
Both intensive and extensive knowledge are encouraged
Both individual and distributed knowledge are encouraged
Dispersed knowledge is encouraged
Tacit knowledge is encouraged and honored
Many different forms and routes to participation
Many different routes to status
Leadership is porous and leaders are resources
Gee contrasts these features with those of the spaces found in typical classrooms, and Continue reading →
Looks like eBay prices on the Nintendo Wii are finally starting to drop to around the $320-$330ish range. As of yet, there aren’t too many software titles to choose from besides Zelda, Madden NFL Football, and the pack-in Wii Sports game. When will we see a Wii game that makes learning a primary goal? As Nintendo is trying to market the traditional “non-gamer” market, could a fun, engaging educational game — say, to teach history or some kind of detective game to promote scientific inquiry — be the one of the first console game to get both parents, teachers, and researchers excited? Will we see Wiis in classrooms (because of the learning opportunities) anytime soon? What kinds of learning does the motion sensitive “wiimote” lend itself to? So many questions, so few answers..
Simon Egenfeldt-Nielsen of the IT-University of Copenhagen wrote a doctoral dissertation entitled Beyond Edutainment: Exploring the Educational Potential of Computer Games. The dissertation consists of five parts:
Background. Grounding work towards an inclusive and solid framework for educational use of computer games, with the conclusion that “educational use of computer games remains strongly influenced by educational media leading to the domination of edutainment.”
Theoretical Foundation. Alternatives based on educational theory and existing computer games research, identifying three generations of educational computer games.
Main Empirical Study. An empirical study of 72 Danish high-school students and teachers using a commercial historical strategy game (Europa Universalis 2) is presented with the intent of examining the actual use of computer games in an educational context, adopting a third generation perspective.
Combining Empirical Findings with Existing Theory. Examining some key findings around the barriers for educational computer game
use, the effectiveness of learning from computer games, etc.
Discussion. Discussion of a general framework for understanding educational use of computer games, extending an “experiential learning approach, where concrete experiences are the starting point that can be transformed through reflection, instruction and active experimentation.”
According to the author, the ideal use of video games are “an experience-based hermeneutic exploration in a safe rich environment, potentially scaffolding the student while maintaining student autonomy and ensuring a high emotional investment in the activity” (p. 3). Egenfeldt-Nielsen provides a pretty nice historical account of educational media and video games, and the literature review on video game research is worth reading too. Click here to download and read the dissertation (warning: large file!). Thanks Matt.
Charles Reed, chancellor of the California State University system, has an interesting perspective on the future of education, as described in this recent cnet article. Responsible for over 400,000 students and 46,000 employees over 23 campuses, Reed envisions students becoming more like telecommuters. They might “meet with faculty and peers one day a week on campus, and then use simulations, virtual worlds and information downloaded for coursework the rest of the week.”
With Reed expressing concerns over expanding enrollment numbers and limited classroom space, it seems that the next logical place to look is in virtual space. Over 70 universities have already built island campuses in Linden Labs’ virtual environment, Second Life. It seems to me that virtual environments are a great way to learn some things — e.g. business (e.g. virtual real estate, intellectual property concerns), economics (virtual economies, competition, cooperation), art and architecture, social science issues like diversity and discrimination, and game design among a host of other topics — but there also seem to be some serious limitations and concerns that come along with an increased reliance on online class sessions. Will the open-ended anonymous nature of the world create more distractions (e.g. what if a student comes dressed as a chimpanzee in the virtual classroom)? If the teacher becomes more like a facilitator in a virtual world, is authority undermined too much? How much guidance/control does (and should) the teacher have? Then there are all the technical issues and high bandwidth requirements, not to mention equity issues — which schools can afford the technology?
In a conference paper presented at the Interaction Design and Children Conference, Robertson and Good (2004) consider the feasibility and benefits of game authoring for children. Ten teenagers created their own stories in the medium of interactive 3D virtual reality computer games, using a game authoring tool available in a commercial role-playing game, NeverWinter Nights. The authors wanted to take some first steps toward exploring some of the educational benefits of letting children create stories using game authoring tools. Interviews were administered, and while thin, the data highlights the more enjoyable activities expressed by the children, along with the more frustrating aspects of using the toolset. While this paper doesn’t actually say a whole lot (especially in terms of its data), game authoring is presented as a good way to develop creative narrative skills such as character creation, plot planning, and dialogue writing.
Video games have sometimes been touted as the gateway to increased computer literacy. Students can play games in the classroom, design their own games as a class activity (e.g. Kafai), or mod games — that is, to adapt an existing game (typically using a toolset) for some other purpose. Games with some degree of modding capability include; Neverwinter Nights, The Sims 2, Dungeon Siege, Second Life, Freedom Force VS. The Third Reich, and Half-Life, among others. Can game modding increase self-efficacy and motivation while teaching female students basic IT skills? Two students at Penn State University offered an extra curricular course, Gaming for Girls, in which an all-female class modded Warcraft 3 while learned some basic IT skills. Was it effective? The paper’s findings are somewhat inconclusive due to a small sample size, but it does provide interesting food for thought for how game modding could be an effective approach for engaging students. Click here to read the paper (PDF format).
Teachers realize that preparing lesson plans and the act of teaching itself causes the teacher to master the subject matter in an in-depth way. What happens when you let the students themselves become the teachers — that is, to let kids create their own educational video games to teach others? Kafai (2006) published a series of studies in which 10-year old children designed their own games, complete with characters, storylines and game themes to teach math (fractions) and science. Rather than embedding ”lessons” directly in games (i.e. more of an “instructionist” strategy, Kafai discusses a “constructionist” strategy that allows students to construct new relationships with knowledge while designing their own games. Therefore, learning takes place during the process of building games.
One interesting finding: Kafai notes “persistent gender differences in virtually all design aspects ranging from violent feedback in case of a wrong answer, the cast of extended characters, the goals of the game, and fantasy context…Although there are no significant gender differences in the proficiency of making games, it is obvious that girls prefer to make very different fraction games from those designed by boys in their class. Most interestingly, when asked to design science rather than fraction games, these gender differences disappeared. Click here to read Kafai’s paper from Games and Culture (in PDF format), along with her more in-depth discussion about gender differences in game design.