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'You Have Died of Dysentery’: How Games Will Revolutionize Education
by John Krajewski on 01/14/14 08:04:00 pm   Expert Blogs   Featured Blogs

The following blog post, unless otherwise noted, was written by a member of Gamasutra’s community.
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.

 

DysentaryWhat do you know about the Oregon Trail?  I’m willing to bet that your knowledge on the subject is gained almost entirely from the thusly-named game, where your typical quest across the country saw your resources dwindle, your family members drop one by one from accidents and disease, ending all too often with words ‘You have died of dysentery’.    

What a terrible, depressing experience that sounds like, and yet it remains one of the most widely played and remembered educational games of all times.  Its creators knew a fundamental truth about the medium of video games that is often forgotten in today’s educational games: the experience you can grant a player is extremely powerful.  The game didn’t force you to memorize facts, it didn’t drill you on trivia.  It was completely about the experience, conveying a not-insignificant understanding of the hardship faced by those who travelled the actual Oregon Trail through the simple, direct act of putting the player in that role. 

And why should it do anything else?  Empathy and understanding of the individual hardship of this historic event I would argue is the most important thing you can take from it at that level of study, much more so than a collection of facts, and games have a huge advantage in delivering experiences that give this to the player well beyond other mediums.  With this intrinsic power, largely untapped by most educational software, games hold the potential to be at the center of a revolution in education, evoking in players the wonder and fascination with a subject that must form the foundation of any meaningful learning. 

The Educational Stigma

The term ‘educational’ when preceding ‘games’ holds a certain stigma, and I would argue rightly so.  Educational games typically treat their educational content as a pill to be swallowed, something apart from the real game.  It’s the ‘work’ that must be done to get the reward: just finish these math problems and you can keep playing the game.  This approach to educational games I would argue actually has the opposite effect, it is worse than nothing, it de-educates.  The key is in the messaging: if the educational content is placed as the obstacle, as the chore that must be finished to get to what’s really fun, as the antagonist, then the very concept that you wanted the player to learn is illustrated as the thing the player should most want to avoid or destroy.  You’re reinforcing the idea that math ‘sucks but is necessary’, that reading ‘is a pain but needs to be done’.  On par with this approach are games that try to hide the fact that you’re doing something educational; surprise, those puzzles you thought were just normal game mechanics were actually algebra!  The intrinsic message being that algebra is so painful and pointless that you have to trick someone into doing it. 

This of course is done in the name of a supposed higher goal: to get the student to learn their multiplication tables, to learn a set of scientific facts, to memorize something.  Is this the highest we can aspire to with educational games?  If so, educational games deserve the stigma. 

Reaching for more

But we know they can achieve more, we’ve seen it in Oregon Trail, we’ve seen it in games that people don’t even think are educational like Portal or Braid.  ‘Papers Please’ is an indie game where you play the role of a cold-war era bureaucrat, and one of the most educational experiences about that period of history I can recall.  There are games out there that reach for more and achieve it, but they are not seen as educational.

'Papers Please' by Lucas Pope.

The crux of the problem is the way ‘educational’ is defined.  For something to be traditionally seen as such it needs to teach, it needs to increase your knowledge, it needs to make you remember facts.  By limiting educational games to these goals, we’re doing a huge disservice to players, denying them the full power of a medium that can achieve immensely higher ideals: the power to impart empathy, wonder, emotion, experience; to convey the beauty of the systems you find in mathematics and the worlds within worlds you find in science.  At its core, it’s the same old problem of ‘games impotently trying to be movies’ reflected into education: games that try to be textbooks or quizzes or encyclopedias will do a poorer job than any of those things, and fail to realize the possibilities dormant in their medium that no other medium can achieve.  As game creators, we need to push the boundaries of what an educational game can be and what its goals are.  We need to show what is possible, and introduce the power of an entirely different way of learning to a skeptical audience, one accustomed to educational games that aim only for the thinnest of gamification wrappers over barren concepts.  We need to build games that offer an important educational service currently missing from the traditional route. How can this be done?

 1. Redefine the purpose of the game

The primary step in building meaningful educational games is to know what we’re aiming for.  If our goals remain on such staid topics as multiplication tables, arithmetic speed, or memorizing facts it won’t matter how novel the game’s mechanics are, it will remain dry and unuseful.  We must aim for higher goals, goals which are harder to measure.  A love of math is an extremely high goal that games can strive for much more easily than a textbook.  A sense of wonder at science.  A connection between history and your own life.  An empathy for others unlike oneself.  Students go through school wondering ‘why on earth do I need to learn this material that is both pointless and boring’, and the primary effort in educational reform continues to be ‘make them learn it faster’.  Games can attack the problem at its root, in a way no other medium can.  Math education in its current state is equivalent with learning to read music without being allowed to listen to it.  Games can let one listen, to see the beauty in a subject that is invisible when rotely practicing it.

2. The learning is the tool, not the goal. 'Universe Sandbox' by Giant Army

Educational games all too often put their learning at the end point, the purpose of the player’s effort. By moving the learning forward and making the educational content the tool to achieve something else that has been given to the player, the player learns naturally in pursuit of another goal. Rather than the subject being the enemy that must be defeated (solve these equations in the allotted time), the subject becomes your tool, your ally (this trap can only be disarmed through skilled use of math). That change of positioning, from antagonist to ally, is deceptively and extremely important. When the game’s purpose is not to ensure the player ‘does math’, but ‘to change their attitude towards math’, it becomes clear just how key this positioning is.

3. Pull, not push

Games are a uniquely powerful medium which can flip the direction of information; rather than pushing information on players, games can be structured to allow players to pull that information.  Instead of providing players with information they did not want and don’t care about, games can be designed to let the player seek that information themselves, to request it, to need it, and even work for it in order to achieve their goals within the game.  In a traditional game a player may need a sword or spell to achieve their goal and will go to great lengths to obtain it, and knowledge and understanding can fill this role of the sword just as easily.  When information is found in this way through exploration and self-motivation it is immensely more meaningful than when it is pushed onto an unwilling player.  Games by their very essence create needs within their worlds, and those needs can easily be for learning, for knowledge, for understanding.  When learning is the player’s need and not their end-goal, its acquisition is a much different experience.

 4. Dynamic systems

'Portal' by Valve Software

The role of play is of course central to games, and thinking about what ‘play’ actually means is essential towards creating educational games. Play is experimentation, play is practice, it’s mastery, it’s safe learning. Even animals play, knowing not to bite the ear of their brother too hard when they pretend to fight, and this play is essential to their education of the real world. It’s almost tragic then to consider that this critical aspect of play is so often lacking in educational games: the player is not encouraged to experiment, to test and see, to poke at a system. Instead they are driven to get the answer right, they are tested, often under time pressure, and suffer penalties for wrong answers.

The subjects that educational games aim to teach are full of systems perfectly fit for experimentation: physical and mathematical and scientific worlds full of interactive and simulatable parts, worlds we can let the player get their hands into and discover for themselves, pushing a value here, removing a system there, experiencing the simulated results. Math games especially often lack a strong dynamic visual element, the very strength of the gaming medium, and rely instead on standard static representations of formulas and numbers. Games are the only medium that can give instant feedback, rich visual changes as small values are changed, illustrating the beautiful cascading effects of even something as seemingly dry and boring as the quadratic formula. There are worlds within worlds in these systems, and games more than any other medium can let the player into them.

 

A long road, and a call to action

One of the reasons educational games are typically focused on more rote skills is due to the pressures that drive education funding: student assessment and raising test scores.  Educators are given goals of getting the hard numbers of test results up, and soft and nebulous measurements like ‘a student’s love of math’ are seen as unmeasurable and thus not important.  In pursuit of this goal, games are created that take the most direct approach: drilling on the test material, working to get immediate measurable progress.

 This approach to educational games is doubly wrong.  First, it assumes that softer assessments like one’s attitude towards a subject cannot be measured.  As any social game maker can attest, games can on the contrary provide analytics infinitely more powerful than the blunt instruments of multiple choice tests that are education’s most commonly used tool.  Secondly, it assumes working at this more foundational level (developing a player’s appreciation of a subject instead of their ability to perform it) will not raise a player’s aptitude in it.  The old adage of ‘teaching a man to fish’ is applicable here: Teach a student how to factor an equation, and you’ve given them a passing test score.  Show them why they should care, and you’ve given them a much greater gift.

Our goals can and should be longer term, and with the capabilities to change minds about learning and to open beautiful worlds to students, games truly have the unique power to revolutionize education.  Modern education is highly focused on data and measurable progress to determine effectiveness, and there’s no reason a shift in the goals of education from functional to foundational can’t be accompanied be a shift in measurement as well, from crude and direct measurement to deeper analytical insight that games can offer.  Measuring behavior in a game gives you useful data that is simply not accessible through a multiple choice test.

 A change as fundamental as this isn’t going to come from above at the policy levels of education, it’s going to come from the ground up, from game makers demonstrating what is possible and inventing metrics that change what is measurable and what higher goals can be sought.  As game developers I believe we are uniquely positioned to begin transforming education; more so than politicians, more so than administrators.  It starts with us, and only if we accept the challenge to show what educational games are truly capable of will it come to fruition.

 

John Krajewski is studio head and creative director at Strange Loop Games, creators of liquid-physics puzzle game ‘Vessel’ as well as educational titles ‘Sim Cell’ (a cellular biology exploration games) and ‘H3i5T’ (a social algebra puzzle game).

Email: john@strangeloopgames.com


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Comments


Sjors Jansen
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Hi John,

I like the perspective you describe. I think it's very important. And it's great that you call it out.

It brings along a lot of responsibility though. Who writes the history books basically (Look at how the recently deceased Sharon is depicted in different places).
Building these experiences, and experiencing them is very subjective, especially if you want to create "Empathy and understanding of the individual hardship". I think moreso than if you would stick to dry 'facts'.
I'm not saying it's a bad thing. Just that it's powerful, and can be abused more easily the more you move into the fun experience. The Arma games for example. Which are probably more propaganda then educational, but it's not hard to recognize it can be a fine line.

And from an implementation perspective it can be a fine line as well, with your example for instance: "Rather than the subject being the enemy that must be defeated (solve these equations in the allotted time), the subject becomes your tool, your ally (this trap can only be disarmed through skilled use of math)."
It's really the approach that is different, the mechanics are pretty similar. In both cases math needs to be used to advance. Do you frame it as an obstacle or as a tool?
I think that's very interesting.

Thanks for the article.

John Krajewski
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That's a great point, with games being a powerful tool it can be easy to use to put forward a particular point of view. I like to think that the fact that players have agency gives them a bit more introspection into what they're doing, but in any case a powerful tool needs to be used carefully.

Rob Lockhart
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I'm sorry you didn't point to any of the great games that are starting a renaissance in educational games. Games that come out of places like Filament Games, Schell Games and the Institute of Play (and even Strange Loop) are bringing public opinion around, and I hope my game Codemancer will be in that category, too :)

Michael Eilers
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Educational games are quizzes with bells and whistles because quizzes with bells and whistles are what educational institutions, and the governments that fund them, are willing to pay for. I have no issue with what you have written here, but who is going to pay for these deep, holistic games full of content, and the expert systems or analysis it would take to determine if students really are getting both the content and the critical thinking you are asking for here? If commercial games with budgets that are now eclipsing $40 million or more aren't delivering the kind of experiential learning you are asking for here, how will these games be created (and the teachers be trained to deploy and interpret the results of) when most classrooms have to beg the parents for money to have erasers and 3-hole punched paper?

Lance Thornblad
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There's nothing wrong with measurable progress. You're right, the method described in this article is not likely to get government funding. However, I think there is a place for it and younger students can benefit especially. It is a matter of introducing the concept slowly and giving the suits some numbers to crunch.

David Langendoen
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Very good question... right now the big way is grants. Our franchise product, Mission US (www.mission-us.org) is financed by the Corporation of Public Broadcasting, NEH, and an SBIR grant through the Dept. of Education. And it is 100% free because of it. Many of Filament's games (referenced above) are of the same model.

This, of course, leads to the sustainability question... when the grant money goes away, how do you monetize all of these thousands of free users to maintain the product and, hopefully, expand it? That's a problem we work on -- and experiment around -- every day.

I do think our games (and others) are delivering the kind of experience that John is getting at and we even have a good body of research to back it up... but even at "only" a few hundred thousand a pop (super cheap by commercial standards), getting ROI is... tricky.

There isn't a good educational equivalent of Steam (although there are services that sort of try). But it's unclear even if such a platform existed, when would be the point when the market reached a critical mass to move the model away from the opiate of grants.

John Krajewski
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It's a problem of design the way I see it, there's no reason a game cant be both educational and provide a solid return on investment, plenty of games do this. It does mean changing what's seen as educational though, and expanding our goals with those types of games, which is going to be a long process to work through the existing system and gain acceptance (but not impossible I argue).

As you mention an educational version of Steam would go a long way towards making this happen, and I'm sure something like this will eventually take hold - schools need something to do with the millions of dollars of hardware they're acquiring. Hardware is flooding these schools, while software remains thin, supplied from standard/traditional outlets not really exploring what's possible. There's a huge opportunity to get software into these schools, the platforms are already in the classrooms, just a matter of connecting the right dots and fitting a new vision into their existing system.

MissionUS looks really interesting, great to see games like this getting made!

John Krajewski
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It's a case of changing the system while following the rules of the system. Educators at all levels are interested in technology and how its going to transform the experience, and I think most agree that there are big changes coming for education, but it's not clear what they're going to be. If we as gamemakers can show them a better way, and back it up in the language they speak (research proven results), there's a huge potential to have a positive effect on education. Grant review boards will see it, they want to see it, we just have to show it to them.

Lance Thornblad
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Completely agree. They like numbers and results and so do I. But that doesn't mean that learning can't be fun along the way.

Have to say, John. I was not aware of your company's existence before this article. 'Checked out your games and I am now a fan.

Joe Program
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Would you put Dragon Box in the category of math games that try to trick the player? Some kids think "I don't like math because I'm not good at it." A game that uses an abstraction to teach around that mental block is a powerful tool. I'd bet that success in Dragon Box usually improves perceptions of math, rather than players feeling that they were tricked.

John Krajewski
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True, I would hedge my statement in the article with that, if a student is already so against the idea of doing math and has already decided it is boring, useless, and they're not good at it, something like that could have a benefit. I think it needs to be a first step in 'bringing them back' into math education though.

Bob Whitaker
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I'm a history professor, and I've used Oregon Trail several times in my US history survey. When it comes to history, I think students have a difficult time putting themselves in the perspective of people in the past. I think games offer a quick and easy way to bridge that divide.

In class, I use Oregon Trail in two ways. First, I use it to illustrate the difficult journey made by settlers to the west in the 19th century. Students have the opportunity to play the game in small groups, and they have to work with their partners to make decisions about supplies and about the risks they'll take on the trail. It's an imperfect, but fun way to put students in that historical context. Second, I use Oregon Trail as a historical text, which the students have to analyze. Oregon Trail does a pretty good job of depicting migration for western settlers, but what is this game missing in its representation of the past (i.e. Native Americans, slavery, etc.).

This has worked pretty well in the classroom, and it has made me eager to try different games in this context. I find that using games is particularly helpful when trying to reach students that aren't as adept at grasping lectures or reading material. I don't have any specific advice for game developers, other than to say that more of this work should be done, and that there will be some very thankful teachers and students on the other end of that process.

David Langendoen
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Since you're focused on history, just want to point you to our Mission US line of games (www.mission-us.org) -- up to three now -- that cast middle-school students as young people at pivotal points in American History. We cover the Revolution, Slavery, and Westward Expansion from the POV of the Cheyenne.

Bob Whitaker
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Thanks! These look great.

John Krajewski
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Awesome to hear Bob, I'm curious to hear how you make software decisions? Is that something teachers/professors get involved in, or is it generally only top-down in your experience? I think the best way to open up education to new kinds of experiences like this is the route from game-makers to teachers like yourself who are open to and interested in non-standard approaches, something from the ground up like that might be the best route for having games play an important role in education.

Bob Whitaker
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By top-down you mean from the administration? I don't get any guidance or requirements with regard to constructing my course. The administration may have a standard textbook for a particular course, but professors are free - and expected - to add additional material (articles, books, games, etc.) as they see fit.

I chose Oregon Trail because it's easily available and comes with a built in frame of reference for most students. They either played it in elementary school, or they have played a variation of the game, like Organ Trail. It works in the college classroom because students remember it from their youth, but now they have a bit more of the historical context to give the game more meaning. Additionally, they have the tools to critically analyze the game as a historical text - as they would a book or movie.

I think you're right that this is the best route - developer to teacher. Most of my colleagues are much older than I am, and stick to traditional mediums in the classroom. I feel, though, that as younger instructors enter schools you'll also see a wider variety of mediums used to teach, including video games. I think we may be several years away from seeing video games as a regular part of a college syllabus, but the potential is there. For instance, Papers, Please - which you mention above - is not just a good game on cold war politics, but may be one of the best recent historical fictions on the subject, regardless of the medium. Professors have been assigning historical fiction novels in history classes for years - why not replace those with a game, especially if it could be more useful for the student? I think it's worth trying, at least.

Ian Richard
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I had a teacher who did the same thing with movies. We'd watch a movie or two based on each historical period before studying it. We'd become interested in the topic and suddenly the textbook wasn't a list of facts... but a story of people who came before.

Game's are also the reason I'm obsessed with Japanese and Chinese history. "Destiny of an Emperor" claimed to be about real historical figures and inspired me to read about them. Soon after I moved into KOEI's other work... Nobunaga's Ambition, Romance of the Three Kingdoms, and even Liberty or Death.

Game's didn't each me history, but they did inspire me to learn it.

*On a side note, I learned to read with Nintendo Power and RPGs and learned math so I could program better games. I don't consider these the related to the main topic though, just an interested fact.

Bob Whitaker
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"Game's didn't teach me history, but they did inspire me to learn it." This is a great point. I think some instructors get a bit too hung up on the historical inaccuracies of a game, book, or movie. I tend to think anything that encourages the student to think more about the subject is a good thing. Let that game or movie encourage their interest, and then leave it to me to fill in the blanks or to correct perceptions in the classroom. The hardest part is getting them engaged.

John Krajewski
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At the professor level I imagine its a different ball game from lower grade levels, but still definitely a role games can play there. At lower grade levels getting kids to care about a subject is a big and often ignored challenge (in favor of having them practice a subject, without caring or seeing the point, which has got to be nearly useless).

From top-down yes I mean administrators, who typically have the unfortunate pressure put on them of increasing test scores and raising blunt metrics. From this perspective a game that doesn't teach direct facts, or have testable takeaways is a hard sell. I'm sure they have the best interests of students at heart, but when your job and career success depends on hard numbers like test scores its pretty clear where they budget is going to go.

I think a great thing we can focus on as game makers is doing the research and analytics to show the effectiveness of our results, we can do things a lot more sophisticated than multiple choice tests with games and it will go a long way in 'speaking the language' that guide educational decisions at that level, and make it easier for teachers to push for new directions.

Ryan Sumo
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This was my exact same experience with "Nobunaga's Ambition". I played the heck out of that game (and failed miserably). Inevitably, I asked myself, "Who the heck is this Nobunaga, and why was he so ambitious?". I then proceeded to our school library to find out exactly that.

Kevin Zhang
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Great points; these issues are some of the same ones we're thinking of right now for the game we're developing, Luna's Wandering Stars, which uses real Newtonian physics for puzzle levels built on planetary orbits. While it doesn't explicitly push specific physics lessons upon you, we're hoping that through playing the levels and using the level creator (in which they can enter the specific numbers for mass, radius, velocity, coordinates, etc), they can learn to enjoy playing around with the concept of mass and gravity in a game setting where the goal isn't to "teach" these concepts.

Tim Kofoed
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I completely agree that the traditional educational games and by extension the edutainment games usually feel like mildly gamified homework.
For our master's thesis a few years back, we made a game which tries to give the player an experience and permit experimentation.
( http://www.talktrafficking.org/wordpress/?p=353 )

We feel educational games' primary task is to be an entertaining game.

Oh, and if you look at the game, please remember it was for school, so there was very little focus on the graphical aspects of the game.

Jim Thompson
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Using games to educate defeats the purpose of both games and education.

Education exists to teach us how to work, and games teach us how to play.

John Krajewski
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I think that's too narrow a definition of both education and games (not to mention you're saying games should 'teach' us how to play, ie educational).

Education is about a lot more then gaining knowledge and learning skills. I would say that's not even half of it.

Chris Sanyk
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Sure, games can be educational.

But I never learned anything from Oregon Trail. The only thing I remembered from it all these years later was the "You have died of dysentery" line, and that the game seemed ridiculously difficult. It felt rigged, no matter what I did in the game, it would kill me somehow or other. I don't think I learned anything about pioneers or American history from playing it, though.

Ryan Sumo
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Oregon Trail taught me a variety of weird stuff, like options for crossing a river. Fording and Caulking were alien words to me, and so it enriched my vocabulary.

I agree that playing the game alone probably would not have really taught me anything except some weird trivia, but if I'd had a teacher that later on explained the game in the context of history, I am almost positive that it would have taught me a lot more.

Gabriel Recchia
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I spoke with one of its developers awhile back, and he mentioned that although teaching about the travails of the Oregon Trail pioneers was one goal of the game, its larger goal was to get kids learning how to use computers from an early age -- this was back in a time when it wasn't exactly obvious that kids would learn how to type and use computers better on their own, with no formal instruction. Interesting how things worked out.

[User Banned]
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This user violated Gamasutra’s Comment Guidelines and has been banned.

David Langendoen
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You're bringing Postman to the party? The man had some good, cautionary points, but I don't think they translate all that well to this particular issue -- at least when games designed for education are done well.

And granted I'm one of those people whose livelihood depends on believing this stuff... but I'm also not in this biz because it's a road to riches. I'm in it because I see kids engaging with content in ways that amaze their teachers... and I'm not talking about a few nice, controlled experiments with tech-forward game-savvy teachers. I'm talking hundreds of thousands of kids.

I think a big source of confusion tends to be what a "game" actually is (or needs to be) in this context. An educational game is designed from the ground up to teach something, to put the game design and mechanics into full service of those learning outcomes, and, ideally, to show (not tell) players why this learning is valuable and important to them and their lives. It should also support a flexible implementation, so that teachers can use it in different ways, and provide hooks for class reflection and discussion.

The initial cited example, Oregon Trail, is not actually an educational game by this standard (at least in my mind), although that isn't to say it hasn't been a valuable teaching tool in the right hands. It was designed primarily as entertainment, but has enough historical elements to pass a basic educational squint test and does teach one important thing: being a pioneer was really, really hard. It's also gotten generations of kids excited enough to learn more about the era -- you know, reading books and doing actual research.

From my middle school days in the early 80s I remember playing a paper-based game, The Game of Empire, about Britain's Triangle Trade in the 18th century. Teams of kids took on the roles of nations and learned the pros and cons of this "mercantilism" concept. Worked brilliantly. So this is to say that "games" have been used by certain teachers, at least, for a long time. This is not a new phenomenon.

And you're right, something not fun is not necessarily worthless. But that doesn't mean education needs to be boring either. Education needs to be challenging. It shouldn't be either boring or so frustrating that you'd rather slam your head into a wall. It should, ideally, be just above the student's comfort zone... a stretch, but a doable stretch (i.e. the Zone of Proximal Development). And guess what? This is something that both technology and games can do reasonably well.

I think we do get into trouble when we start speculating that games will replace teachers. The great twist with "The Primer" in Stephenson's The Diamond Age is that this ultimate teaching technology is actually being secretly driven by human teachers in real time. Games need to be designed in the service of teachers and their unique ability to help students reflect on what they've experienced.

Making these sorts of game is hard and expensive; multi-disciplinary teams have to reconcile their outlooks to balance design with objectives. And most game mechanics are suited for the specifics of what they teach and don't necessarily translate to other subjects. This is why we see so many bad edu-games... some publisher is trying to recycle the same engine to cover more content.

Anyway, that's more than enough for today. Thanks for reading.

John Krajewski
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Great points David, and I think your point of view makes clear that there's a lot of room in what educational games can be and how they can be used, and a lot of that is not going explored due to a limited definition of what's expected of them.

I see games as both fitting into the existing education system and pushing it, and simultaneously redefining what it means to educate and how we go about that. With the benefit of retrospect on my own education, I can say the most meaningful experiences were the least conventional ones, not gaining knowledge but facing adversity and hardship and challenge, and persevering out of an appreciation for the subject to ultimately succeed. The specific knowledge I gained from my education I do use, but the experiences I went through are much more transformative, shaping who I became. My argument is that a focus on only skills and knowledge ignores the most important parts of education, and games can address the rest exceptionally well.

Pedro Fonseca
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That is indeed a great and interesting read.

It actually ties in into a discussion I was having with some friends a while back after playing Uncharted Waters for the first time; in that the game taught me more about geography and trade routes in a matter of weeks than all the years of high-school I spent "learning" it.

Granted, I was willing to play it and absorb the experience...I'm 27 now, not sure I'd be this patient with a game (and a hard and weird one at that) when I was 17 or less; still, the point remains that it showed me what an educational game should strive for, which is exactly how you put it, with the "teaching" part coming from the player on free will (in order to get an advantage on the game) and not be an all that necessary to play the game (so, even if the player pays no mind to what's being taught, some of it will still sip through simply from doing it, much akin to today's design goals of tutorials).

However, there are still some unique details that need to be ironed out; immersion and desire to keep playing being the main ones. I enjoyed Uncharted Waters deeply and actually spent time re-learning about trade routes and goods so I could make more money in the game; but were I a decade younger and forced to play the game? Seems unlikely the experience would be the same.

Granted, even with those considerations, chances are I would still prefer to play it than truly do my geography/history homework.


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