Attending conferences aimed at the game industry is always fun, but also usually reminds me, that I probably need to clarify my relation to games.
It’s not that I personally mind my eclectic approach, working in several directions at once, it’s just that I rarely know how to convey a clear image of this in the short amount of time conference networking leaves you with (a phenomenon I was never too happy about in the first place).
“Are you a developer?” “No, I’m..”
…and then people are already gone, moving on to someone less confusing (and confused).
So here’s a humble attempt at describing my dreams with games – in a (relatively (who am I kidding?)) brief post (If nothing else, laying out my position is probably a good exercise for me) (and I will try to use less parentheses)..
Games in education
When I was preparing my Master’s Thesis back at Media Studies, around 2007, I was conflicted. Initially, I was kinda opposed to the idea of games having anything to prove. They are legitimate in and of themselves, damn it! I was and is vehemently opposed to any perception that sees games as nothing but trivial tools to reach goals outside the game, e.g. learning.
I've said this multiple times. I'll say it again (& again). Games don't need to support any 'worthy cause'. They ARE a worthy cause.
— Mathias Poulsen (@mathiaspoulsen) October 4, 2013
Even so, I moved into the field of games & learning. I started exploring how specific games (in the case of my thesis, “Global Conflicts: Palestine“) could be used in education, and what it means, how it challenges teacher/student relations etc. I didn’t have a clue what to expect, but was quite fascinated with what I found. Students considered “weak” in school participated heavily, and talked eloquently about the complex conflict. I mean…some students (almost) understood suicide bombers, because they talked to the mother of one such.
It was a both touching and eyeopening experience, and I knew I wanted to go further down this path. I also believed, that people knew most of this already. As it turned out, most people didn’t, and I figured I had no other option than being self-employed, trying to navigate and mediate between game developers, researchers, educators etc. I thought of “bridging gaps” as one of my primary goals – and I still do.
I quickly realized the need to broaden my scope, and early on, I started working with all kinds of “games in education“; learning games, “entertainment” games, games as “learning tools”, analysing games, making games etc.
By now, five years in, I remain heavily interested in all aspects of games in education. I am involved in several exciting projects, and I might start spending more time on creating better conditions for developers of “learning games” (or whatever you fancy calling them). I have also encountered and worked with more general challenges facing the use of digital media in education, and I spend much time encouraging conversations across domains & an increased focus on sharing knowledge.
More than anything, though, I’m interested in working towards changing the way we think about and practice education. How do we make it much more meaningful for anybody involved? How do we create better opportunities for more people to live rich lives, including being an active part of society? In this regard, games serve as a source of inspiration more than an actual tool. It’s not about the games themselves, it’s about how they can inspire us to think differently about education and learning.
If you want to dive deeper into this, James Paul Gee is probably one of themost vocal & prominent proponents of understanding games as an ideal framework for learning and problem solving:
Summing up, you probably couldn’t point to an area of “games & learning” that doesn’t interest me (that’s not entirely true, because edutainment-style drill & practice rarely gets me fired up. That’s an exception from the rule).
Games in society
Spending a lot of time and energy on arguing for the inclusion of games in education, I am frequently engaged in broader discussions on the role and perception of games in society.
If I have to say it again, I’ll do that. Just for the sake of extreme clarity. I bloody love games. Not because they can help us achieve stuff, that can be tested. First and foremost because games allow us to do interesting things, go interesting places, and in some (albeit rare) cases, allow us to explore what it means to be human. Or sometimes, it’s just about being as stupid and silly as possible (looking at you, Saints Row).
That’s all fine.
So many people still don’t really understand or care about games, and a (surprisingly) large portion of society are still attracted to the sensationalist headlines of games causing all kinds of harm, and then this happens (again and again):
On a less dramatic scale, many are simply happy to maintain the most stereotypical perception of games and gamers, even though the demography of people playing games is shifting. Ian Bogost has a nice take on this:
“Soon gamers will be the anomaly. If we’re very fortunate, they’ll disappear altogether. Instead we’ll just find people, ordinary people of all sorts. And sometimes those people will play videogames. And it won’t be a big deal, at all.”
At the same time, we need to stop defending games at all costs. We need to stop pretending there’s no possible consequences of playing games. We need to abandon the notion that “it’s just a game” as the only answer to any kind of criticism. Hey, if games have no impact whatsoever, how could they be so fascinating? Let’s talk more about why we love games, how they challenge us intellectually, connect with us on an emotional level, and what it means that games are such a huge part of culture and our lives.
I would love to do more to work challenging assumptions and exploring the concept of “meaningful conversations” about games. Most people simply don’t know how to talk about games, or at least they tend not to do so. I have been contemplating events, that bring together a much broader audience than, say, game developers or educators. I’ve also had the pleasure of discussing this with the most brilliant people:
— Michael Abbott (@brainygamer) April 11, 2013
A playful life
What I would like more than anything, though, is to contribute to a movement towards a society, where playfulness is an ideal (one ideal, not the ideal. I don’t care much for dichotomies between games/play and other media/activites).
A society where something like this happens more often:
Or…oh, you get the picture.
A society where “play” is not relegated to the realm of children, and where playing is something we all do – in a multitude of ways, in all kinds of situations. This is not about games per se, but about fostering a culture, where play is not merely tolerated, but embraced and appreciated.
Among many other domains, education would benefit SO much from allowing play to unfold. Just think about the relationship between play and creativity, curiosity, exploration and experimentation.
…but it’s really not, first and foremost, about using play as an instrument. It’s about acknowledging the inherent value of a “playful state of mind”.
This line of thinking is not new, and many brilliant people are already fighting this important fight (in different, but playful ways). Look towards people like Thomas Vigild, Stine Liv Johansen, Carsten Jessen, Bernard De Koven, Zuraida Buter (whom I recently dubbed “play evangelist”. Actually, all these people qualify for that label).
— Mathias Poulsen (@mathiaspoulsen) October 2, 2013
Those are just some of the people, that inspire me on (more or less) a daily basis. Then there’s all the wonderful game companies, organizations & collectives like the lovely Copenhagen Game Collective.
How do we encourage a more playful approach to life?
So this is all very broad, you say? Yeah. Well, it’s an adventure, and I keep seeing interesting patterns, overlaps and new connections. It all makes sense to me (from time to time).
Any hooks in some of this long tale, that made you want to talk? Get in touch (protip – Twitter works better than anything).
Constantly trying to decipher the many, many reasons for not working with games in education, one “popular” argument has, unsurprisingly, to do with economy.
If schools must buy licenses for e.g. an entire class to play a game, that is frequently the one single reason why they won’t go down that road. Games are often considered “the risky bet”, and it seems safer to buy books (analog or digital).
Yes, many interesting games are free or cheap, and often a demo of a game will be sufficient to explore aspects of that particular game.
Even so, full games are to be preferred in most cases, and in addition to the price, the issues of finding these games or demos and the technical barriers of “making them work” is like an insurmountable wall:
A few initiatives are currently mitigating this barrier, as MinecraftEdu makes Minecraft more accessible and cheaper, Portal 2 is free through “Steam for Schools”, Sim City Edu seems to moving in this direction etc.
Despite these important efforts, the field is fragmented and the examples scarce.
What can be done?
I am not specifically talking about learning games, but all games relevant to education (which all good games can be, in one way or another).
Would it be possible to create a platform, that simultaneously makes relevant games more easily accesible logistically, while also being cheaper or even free?
How would such a platform be designed? Developed? Maintained?
Who would use it? Who would support it?
Why would developers participate in this?
I don’t know the answers, but what I am currently thinking is this:
Lower economical barriers
For games to be used in education, they must be cheap or free.
Can we launch an initiative, that supply relevant and interesting games without the sometimes very high costs accompanying those games?
Lower technical barriers
Alongside economy, technical barriers are obstructing the adoption of games in education.
Some games are too demanding in terms of computer specs, other games only available for platforms schools don’t have access to, or games are difficult (or assumed to be difficult) to get up and running.
It should be easy and straightforward, not getting in the way of playing and exploring the game.
Ideally available for all platforms without installation in some fancy cloud’ish manner.
While the techical issues may be prominent, so is the actual process of finding relevant games.
Any such platform should therefore be about more than simply making games available.
It should make relevant games available, and thus also offer a curation process. Right off the top of my head, I would love to see games like Spec Ops: The Line (yeah, I just finished that one) and Walking Dead (great for an exploration of ethical & moral issues) be part of something like this.
This would also mean, that individual agreements would have to be negotiated with each developer (and/or publisher etc.).
For this to be interesting, developers need to consider participating to be meaningful. Value can be created in different ways:
- CSR – what companies do to be respected and appreciated in society. Would game developers see the value in becoming a benefactor in education? This is not in itself a possible revenue stream, but might indirectly lead to that.
- Increased regular sales – in continuation of the above, having access to these games in education, and seeing the effort of the developer might create sympathy and interest with students and teachers, who would, in turn, buy more of these games outside school.
- Subscription – it could be possible to build a service, that schools etc. would subscribe to.
- Extra value packs – like DLC & IAP, it might be an idea to sell material, that makes the exploration and use of the game richer in some way. As an example, many teachers would need a guide of some sorts.
- Donations – as has been shown by the Humble Bundle (by the way, go buy the current Indie Bundle) and others, many people are happy to donate (/pay more than required). It is plausible, of course, that these dynamics are completely different in education.
- External sponsors – there is an increasing interest in the possibility of private companies sponsoring education, and that might be leveraged here.
- Other suggestions?
I would love to see this be developed as a non-profit initiative, but obviously funding is important if this should ever become reality.
I assume (and might be wrong) that this would not impact sales/profits in a negative way.
Some kind of verification process would be required to ensure (or increase the plausibility) that you are actually a teacher (e.g. Steam for Schools requires an email from a educational institution, and you need to be verified).
What do you think? Would anything in this direction even be a worthwhile effort? Is it a good idea? Is it feasible? Do you have anything else to add?
I keep pondering whether or not serious games are the right approach to game based learning.
First and foremost, though, I keep wondering why serious games are not better games.
Serious games should be no less “gamey” than any good game out there.
Let’s up the ante, raising the bar even further.
Serious games should be able to go toe-to-toe with any good game out there.
I recently read Serious Games “Ought to be Focusing as Much on the Gaming Aspects as on the Message”, in which Nordine Ghachi points very much in the same direction:
I don’t think that serious games are under threat, quite the opposite. Their time will have really come when serious game creators start according at least the same level of importance to the video gaming potential as to the “serious” message that the game is trying to get across. Let’s imagine a serious game that is so well designed, such a fun game and so addictive that it creates the sort of buzz that Uncharted 3 (Playstation) for instance is doing at the moment
To get there, it’s important that we shift our focus, and design games where learning is much more as described in The Play’s The Thing:
Many popular games teach important skills and convey valuable knowledge, not in a heavy-handed “pay attention, you’re about to learn something” way, but through the intrinsic challenge-based, problem-solving, storytelling, and, oh yes, fun nature of the games themselves
Uncharted might be an intimidating example, as developer Naughty Dog is consistently hailed for incredible production value, great voice-acting, effective storytelling and so on. It’s terribly linear, yes, but most players still find it terribly enjoyable (this player included).
That’s exactly why it’s a great example, reminding developers to aim high.
“But there’s not enough money in making serious games, severely limiting what you can do”.
At least two answers to that.
First off, you don’t need to mirror the scope and production values of Uncharted; just the ambition to actually create a blast of a game, which people really, intensely want to play. Such experiences are not determined by your budget, but by your creativity and skills as a game designer. Indies are great examples of this, never reaching the budgets nor mainstream appeal of Uncharted or Modern Warfare, but providing one fantastic, innovative, surprising hit after another.
Secondly, you could consider changing your perception of your end users.
Usually, developers of serious games have a relatively limited target audience – be it education, corporate training, political campaigns or what have you. Sometimes the game is a direct response to a client, sometimes developers create their own serious game IP. Either way, the market is quite small.
If your game is actually good enough, you should be able to break free of this self-imposed limitation. If your game is as good as any game, you should not consider some educational niche your only possible outlet.
Why not make games for everyone to enjoy?
Make good games, that people actually want to play.
If the game also fulfils specific learning purposes, that’s a nice bonus, but that shouldn’t come first, really.
The GAMEiT EU-project is nearly over, we’ve had a conference and the GAMEiT handbook has been available in a limited print edition for about a month, and now it’s also online as well. I’ve written several chapters, and as always, I’d be happy to hear your comments, critique, questions.
Read or download below:
My work remains centered around the relation between games, learning and education (even though I can’t help but stray from that path quite often). My point of departure was quite narrowly concerned with the application of serious games (e.g. Global Conflicts) in school (see my master’s thesis (in Danish) or the English abstract). It’s only been 3-4 years, yet it seems like I’ve covered so much ground since then. I’ve had the immense pleasure of meeting and working with great, inspirational people, and I have been constantly on the move. As stated elsewhere, I sometimes feel a bit like Bilbo, writing and being present in so many different contexts. During the last couple of years I have, however, been trying to make this the central hub of my work, and thus I have collected here some posts on games & learning.
When revisiting my writing on games, learning and education, some patterns and reappearing topics are identifiable:
- Games & entrepreneurship
- Projects & conferences
- Perceptions of games
- Barriers to games in education
As with the previous post, these are only analytical constructs; containers for a number of posts, but containers which overlap in many ways.
All links in this post are internal (except when stated otherwise).
Despite the increasing attention, the growing interest and the enormous amount of work being done within the field of “games and learning”, we’re still very much in the middle of defining what we mean, when we talk about “games and learning”. I, for one, often gets confused and loses my bearings, because we lack a common vocabulary, a common frame of reference.
As a consequence, I frequently try to define what I’m talking about, drawing borders; basically, I’m chasing a moving target.
As one of my first posts, I asked “what is game based learning?“. I try to find out, what it is, that games do; they “offer a situated practice, where we as players must acquire the skills, knowledge and competencies needed to beat the game, thus echoing John Dewey’s mantra, learning by doing”. At the time, I reached upon this definition: “Game based learning describes an approach to teaching, where students explore relevant aspect of games in a learning context designed by teachers. Teachers and students collaborate in order to add depth and perspective to the experience of playing the game.”
In my view, game based learning may be only one of several uses of games in education, and I thus tried to describe “my take on games in education” in a larger perspective. In short, it’s about either using games as learning tools in order to support learning in any possible subject area (e.g. maths, social science, language etc.) or working with games as cultural phenomena, which we must understand.
Building on the former post, I wrote a more elaborate “intro to game based learning“, which represented a draft chapter for the handbook in the GAMEiT Project. Among other things, I distinguish between four different approaches to game based learning:
- Dedicated learning games
- Commercial entertainment titles
- Game-like scenarios
- Developing games
“By the Power of Greyskull” (or merely the internet) it becomes possible, if you are “new to games & learning“, to listen to “the worlds’ finest experts across research and practice”, and I always recommend that. Therefore, I tried to collect in this post a number of very important speakers, who all have valuable insight on games and learning.
One particular area, in which I’m increasingly interested, is the relationship between developing games, learning and entrepreneurship. This is way outside my initial line of sight, yet it has proven to resonate with the principles of good games. When David Williamson Shaffer is talking about “epistemic games”, he could thus be talking about games about game development:
Epistemic games are games that let players learn to work and, thus, to think as innovative professionals. Epistemic games are games that let students develop the epistemic frames of innovation. Epistemic games are fun, but they are fun because they are about innovation and mastery of complex domains. Epistemic games are about knowledge, but they are about knowledge in action—about making knowledge, applying knowledge, and sharing knowledge. Epistemic games are rigorous, motivating, and complex because that’s what characterizes the practices of innovation upon which they are modeled.
For the GAMEiT Handbook (an outcome of the GAMEiT Project), I wrote a chapter introducing some of the ideas behind “learning by producing“. Springing from the work at GameIT College, I describe how students develop games and how they, by doing so, start working and thinking a lot more like entrepeneurs.
Talking about entrepreneurs, I urge everybody to “embrace the initiative“. Inside as well as outside education, we need students, people, citizens, who are able to take the initiative and make things happen. Oh, and I also talk about the inherent importance of failure. We need to be willing to fail more often.
Describing a very recent project at GameIT College, I wrote about “games for medical students“, where the GameIT students are “making games for medical students. The games were primarily supposed to be concerned with supporting reflection and decision-making in regard to law and ethics in the field of organ donation”. Highly exciting stuff.
This is a somewhat inane and broad category, but bear with me.
One of the projects, which have occupied a fair chunk of my time the last couple of years, is the GAMEiT Project, where we have been “exploring game based learning“. “We aim to identify, collect, test and distribute good practice in game based learning. Our project will result in a framework of game based learning pedagogy.”
As the project is coming to an end, we did a conference, which I described in a “GAMEiT Conference – post mortem“, where I sum up the conference, and talk a little about our GAMEiT handbook. At the conference, we ended up talking mostly about the “learning by producing”-approach to games, as almost every speaker touched upon this in one way or another. We also, however, had a chance to reflect upon the capability of games to make us reflect upon the world; exciting meta-stuff.
I keep attending as many relevant conferences as possible, as I always walk away with more than I brought upon arrival. Even though most often I’m not confronted with radically new knowledge, I get to hear what other people in the field are doing, and – most important, probably – I get to talk to people more passionate and insightful than myself. I love that almost more than anything.
Last summer I went to Prague with the very inspiring Ella Myhring, and I wrote about my “impressions from Prague“. We were invited to participate in a workshop in the IMAGINE (Increasing Mainstreaming of Games In Learning Policies), and we each did a talk. I took note of a couple of things in particular. First off, a year ago we were all confused about what the actual meaning of game based learning. We still are. Secondly, some participants argued for the use of small and simple games in order to lower the effort needed to include those games in education. I’m not opposed to “small and simple” per se, but I’m opposed to the idea that we should only consider that type of games out of a misunderstood intention to make things easy. Education is and should not be easy. Games are many things, and we should certainly also include the big, complex and – perhaps – intimidating ones.
Last fall, the European Conference on Games Based Learning (ECGBL) was in Copenhagen (right now it’s in Athens), and I wrote a post appropriately titled “ECGBL“. Despite me not being a researcher in the formal “I’m-at-a-university-doing-research” way, I’m tremendously interested in the field. Three topics were central to me throughout the conference; 1. the idea of using the study of games (usually labelled “game studies”, appropriately) and their understanding of games as our foundation for game based learning, 2. the idea that assumptions regarding games and game based learning must be constantly challenged, e.g. the notion that games automatically foster motivation, and 3. the idea that games should not be directly integrated into exisiting teaching practice, as they should be used to leverage new was of teaching.
One thing that always strikes me, when working with games, is the multitude of perceptions.
People think all kinds of different things, when thinking about games.
One discourse, which have been hampering the use of games for anything than entertainment, is the rather crude idea, that games make players more violent. Trying to be just a little provocative, I wrote a post on how “I kill people“, in which I tried to shed some light on the actual research in the field of video games and violence. The conclusion? “We are nowhere near any final conclusions”.
In continuation of this, I’ve been discussing if “games can get too close?“. Time and time again, we see discussions about whether or not games should be allowed to tackle contemporary issues like terrorism and war. “Books, songs, television and movies have been depicting painful events for years on end, and they all caused quite a commotion; at least in the beginning. Why are games not allowed to follow suit?”
I’ve also been looking at “games as arguments” in an attempt to explore, how games can be used as media to promote ideas or arguments. “Could a game persuade you? To think differently? To vote differently? To change your perspective on the world? To buy another brand of milk?”.
There’s a widespread perception, that games are not real; or, to elaborate, what takes place in games is not real. The rapid growth of “virtual consumption” radically challenges this notion, because what are you buying, if what you’re buying doesn’t exist? I argue, that “virtual goods ARE real!“, quoting the Finnish researcher, Vili Lehdonvirta, that “people buy virtual goods for the very same reasons as they buy other goods”. Among other things, this is important because we have to address the notion of “consumer competence” in education.
Many people seem to think, that the barriers to applying games as educational tools are too many and too hard to overcome, and that it really isn’t worth the effort.
It should be obvious by now, that I passionately disagree.
Even so, it’s very important to identify the barriers in order to address them in our continous effort to increase the understanding and use of games in education. (I haven’t explored this in appropriate depth here, but take a look at Simon Egenfeldt’s “The Challenges to Diffusion of Educational Computer Games” for a research based introduction).
When I am (frequently) asked, what it is, that I do – I say, that I build bridges. That I am “bridging gaps“. This is because, I see the many gaps between game developers, researchers, politicians and practitioners as one of the major reasons for game based learning not being much more advanced and widespread by now. We should share knowledge much more vehemently, and facilitate dialogue both with stakeholders inside as well as outside education.
Another barrier is linked to the “time to play“. This refers to the very real issue of the actual time it takes to play games. Many games are big, complex and long, and requires the player to dedicate massive amounts of time. This is hard, but we still need to consider the playing of games an essential part of “understanding games”. “We need to be serious about playing games; even when it’s just for the sake of having fun. Could we imagine a situation, where we only talked about books without ever reading one? Where our common frame of reference was primarily built on some vague preconception rather than first-hand knowledge about concrete books? Where the suggestion of actually reading a book was above all received with scepticism and a disoriented laughter?”
I’ve been working quite a bit lately, not least because of the GAMEiT Project, which is now coming to an end. Last Thursday we hosted the GAMEiT Conference in Copenhagen, and I wish to thank everybody, who contributed to it being exactly as I had hoped: The speakers, who did a very impressive job illustrating the fascinating diversity of games in education. The participants, who seemed passionate about the field, and eager to get things moving. Our partners in the project, who have been an important source of inspiration, sparring & exploration. A huge thank also goes out to Anders Høeg Nissen, our moderator, who kept his cool despite us being late, an emergency evacuation, periodically lack of coffee, several program changes & the usual chaos.
All in all, I’m left with a very good feeling, but there’s no laurels to rest on, really. We need to keep moving, and hopefully the conference helped us rally more people to our common project – the distribution of knowledge on games & learning. I urge you all to consider this:
Let me do a very short recap on the day. First off, it’s worth mentioning, that we experienced several changes to the program, which ended up looking like this:
Tim Rylands really kicked things off with his (always) spectacular performance . Tim has a very engaging way of doing talks like this one, and he showed us how games can be used to work with storytelling, language, building relationships and an wide array of related topics. What I also like about Tim’s work, is that he makes it very clear, that working with games in education doesn’t mean, that you’re only working with games. You can see all the amazing stuff presented by Tim collected right here and you can also read Tim’s take on the conference over at his very nice blog.
After Tim came Oscar García Pañella straight from Barcelona. Providing us with a quite different – yet very related perspective. Oscar is a multimedia engineer, and his students are building – among other digital products – serious games for very real world clients. Oscar had been wondering, why some of their courses with seemingly interesting content didn’t become very good experiences, and he boiled it down to one thing: the method of delivery, the design of the learning context. They changed it completely, and ended up with the much more authentic real-world scenarios. This resonated very much with me, as I’m constantly talking about the context, and trying to think along the lines of authentic contexts when designing student projects. Oscar also talked about game design principles, how they’re (also) important for serious games, and how we often see education differ from the great learning experiences in games.
We had a very delicious lunch, after which I had tasked myself with an impossible mission; to describe the amazing work being done by teachers at GameIt College in only 30 minutes. Despite (or because of?) my rapid-fire, machinegun-like talk, I don’t feel I conveyed anything but a basic idea; have the courage to risk failing. See for yourself, as you can access my presentation right here:
With me talking about what can be learned while working with games, it was only appropriate to hear from actual game students. I had promised students from GameIT College, yet this (also) changed during the process of planning. Instead, I had invited Peter & Line from “Spildatamatikeruddannelsen” in Grenå. They have been developing serious games for two different “customers”, and they provided us with some very deep & impressive reflections on important principles of learning games and the learning springing from developing games.
Next up was André Chercka, a Danish teacher, who’s been working with games like Battlefield & Minecraft in his math classes, and he provided us with some very interesting experiences from his own practice. In Battlefield, he made students do measurements and calculations related to speed, scale and land mass. In Minecraft, his students were building stuff, calculating the size of surfaces etc. Be sure to follow André, as he’s currently trying out new approaches.
To finish the day, I had challenged Danish game journalist Thomas Vigild with the task of explaining “how games are culture”. Despite his initial statement, that “this was almost too hard”, he did a mighty fine job. One of his central ideas was the notion of “conversational gameplay”, stating that we talk with the games we play. According to Thomas, games should follow these rules for “good conversations”:
Anders Høeg Niessen facilitated a concluding Q/A session, where collected some of the different strands. One interesting issue, which surfaced at the end, was the lack of formalised “meetings” between game developers and educators. How could we create a better platform for interaction between those making and those using games for learning purposes? I’ll make sure to follow this issue, as it’s one of my special interest topics.
We had a twitter-backchannel running throughout the day, and I’m working on archiving all the tweets. For now, just look at #gameitconf.
I took some (pretty bad) pictures with my phone, which are available here:
Oh, and Thursday was also the day, when we presented the GAMEiT Handbook, which consist of a number of chapters on game based learning, written by the partners in the project.:
It is currently only available in the print version, but we’ll soon supply an online version – for free, of course. We’re simply happy to share our experiences from the project; no strings attached. If you’re really impatient, take a look at my introductory chapter & the one on “learning by producing“.
At GameIT College, we’re always busy working on several very exciting projects simultaneously.
I’m currently particularly involved in one, which has to do with education of medical students.
How is that, you might think, as I know next to nothing about medicine?
We received a mail from this visionary fellow, Mads Ronald Dahl, at Unit of Medical Education, Aarhus University. He simply asked, if we at GameIT College would like to collaborate on making games for medical students. The games were primarily supposed to be concerned with supporting reflection and decision-making in regard to law and ethics in the field of organ donation.
Curious as both I and Anders Vang Pedersen, game master at GameIT, are, we immediately jumped aboard and started running with the ball.
A bit of background. Two related issues had inspired Mads to contact us:
- As with almost every area within education, the current generation of medical students are dissatisfied with the level of ICT used by educators. No revolutionary news here, yet an outcry, which shouldn’t be ignored.
- At the same time, several educators desire an increased level of reflection and abstraction with the students, who might be a bit too keen on learning by rote (which then again may very well be a consequence of the fundamental structures of the medical education).
How about adressing both problems simultaneously – by using digital games?
Acknowledging that learning in good games is radically different than the kind of rote learning seemingly practiced by medical students, games might thus prove to be a very appropriate choice. I have earlier written that games are, among other things characterized by:
- Solving problems
- Action in context
- Receiving feedback
- Optimal challenge
- Safe zones
This is old news to most game designers (visit the blog of Lasse Pallesen, a friend and game designer, for a more thorough introduction to game design principles). At the same time, these principles are principles of good learning experiences.
This is the basic premise of so much of my work, and how, then, could I possibly turn down this project? As the process of developing games also incorporates valuable learning processes for the GameIT students (as described here & here), the opportunity was just great. Students get a chance to be challenged and feel the true value of their work, while the people from medical education will (hopefully) also learn a bit and eventually end up with games, which can (potentially) be applied by educators. That’s a win-win, if I ever saw one.
Our students didn’t initially share this excitement. When they first heard about our decision, they expressed quite mixed feelings.
“Games for learning? Too boring!”
“Games for medical students? Too difficult!”
Thankfully, as we started to dig a bit deeper, it seems their attitudes began changing. Among other things, we had a chat about games with the potential to challenge their own world-views, to make them stop and reflect, and to simply make them think. This seemed to resonate with many, and games as different as the new Deus Ex, Heavy Rain, One Chance, and the quite exemplary learning game Do I have a right? got a mention.
This was good; we moved on from the initial assertion, that “all learning games are boring” towards the much more fascinating idea, that “all games have the potential to foster reflection”, and learning games thus doesn’t have to be any different than the best of games.
Another important step was when Mads an a couple of his colleagues visited the students in order to simply meet each other, to adjust expectations of both parties, and to discuss game concepts. Lise Kirstine Gormsen from The Danish Pain Research Center did a short presentation on ethics in general and specifically in relation to organ donation, and afterwards we had a short discussion on interesting cases. Concluding this sessions, I was sincerely impressed, when groups of students without further ado got up and pitched their initial game design ideas.
Luckily, I wasn’t the only one being happy with what I saw and heard, as our “customer” expressed unconditional satisfaction and left with high expectations for the remainder of the project (so much, that several students afterwards felt a bit overwhelmed by the praise, but hey – who doesn’t want a real-world customer to express their sincere satisfaction?).
So how’s all this playing out?
Anders wrote an elaborate project description for the students, in which the educational purpose, the deadlines, the constraints & demands, the target group etc. is thoroughly sketched out. The overall purpose of the project is described in this way:
The project centers on the development of computer games for the medical students, in regards to a course called “Law and Ethics”. The course tries to teach the the students how to be reflective people with a thorough and critical angle on the different sciences, especially concerning “law and ethics”.
At the moment of writing, our students are in Seattle, working hard to develop working prototypes, which must be done by november 5th, when they travel back to Denmark. I’m flying over this Saturday, and besides the general excitement of travelling, I’m really looking forward to following the progress at first hand.
We’re experimenting with many of my core ideas about designing contexts for good learning experiences in one big melting pot, and I’ll make sure to report in detail, once the project is over (or when I know more, at least).
Today, September 1th, I’m at the conference “Next Kids Tech 2011″ organized by The LEGO Foundation, where I’m doing a microtalk and two workshops. Like so many kids, I was happily spending a large amount of time playing with the fabulous LEGO-bricks when I was younger, and it’s thus a great pleasure to contribute to something LEGO’ish.
The workshop is a relatively short one, and I have focused primarily on facilitating hands-on experiences, letting participants try one or more games, which I believe can contribute in different ways to education. There’s an agenda along the following lines:
- Brief introduction
- Play session
The games I’ve chosen for the workshop:
- September 12th (war on terror)
- Cutthroat Capitalism (piracy)
- 3rd World Farmer (3rd world)
- Playing History (history)
- Global Conflicts (social sciences, history, religion, geography)
- Raid Gaza! (social sciences, religion)
- Else – Defender of Earth! (geography)
- Ayiti – The Cost of Life (social sciences, geography)
- Magtens Segl (history)
- Do I have a right? (civics, social sciences)
- Stop Disasters (environmental, geography)
- McDonalds Videogame (criticism)
Take a look at a couple of repositories with a wealth of games (some better than other, of course):
Below is my combined microtalk & workshop presentation:
If you want to read more, I’ve written an introduction to game based learning for an upcoming handbook.
As we’re now quite close to our first deadline for the handbook in the GAMEiT-project, I’ll publish yet another draft.
Whereas the first draft chapter I published here was intended to provide an overview of the field of game based learning, this one is more specific.
Based on much of the writing on game literacy and the perspective of developing video games, I attempt to illustrate how the entire process of developing games in education is indeed a valuable entrepreneurial process involving a slew of skills and competences.
But hey, some people (who know me) would say, you’re no game developer?!
I fully acknowledge this, and I don’t intend to become one, really. I am very happy with my current position, navigating between and talking to researchers, game developers, consultants, educational practitioners – and people like myself, who are not easily categorizable.
What I do intend is therefore to “connect the dots”, creating an overview, showing how education can learn from what takes place outside the walls, and how developing games resonates with a wide array of skills and competences highly valued by contemporary society – also outside the game business.
Whereas I thus often position myself at a distance, trying to maintain an overview, my fabulous colleague and game master at GameIT College, Anders Vang Pedersen, is actually a game designer, and thus far better at the actual development. Much of what I describe has been carried out by Anders and merely observed by me.
Well, as always, any comments are welcome, and not least if you’re a game developer. Do I get anything completely wrong? Or do I miss important details? If you want to have a say in the handbook, I would love quotes from developers – either in the comments, via Twitter or just contact me.
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