Seeing educational potential in every game!!

I’ve always been keen on games. Before the days of Pong our family played board games such as Scrabble and Monopoly. Though I was brought up in the countryside with few neighbours, we still played soccer, tennis, badminton, hockey, darts, snooker, cricket, basketball and other sports – and mainly out on the country roads of Co. Tyrone! I still play 5-aside soccer but now I’m mainly addicted to console (and sometimes PC) games, so I’m more often off the roads and indoors.  For example, in the past month I have played Gears of War II through twice in co-op on two difficulty levels and I’m now close to the end of Halo 3 (again!) in Heroic! In the past week I’ve also been playing Dead Space and toyed around with Eve online. I’m a gamer before I’m a researcher.

Now that I’m involved in educational technology and the use of structural ideas from games to enhance education process and systems, I find that I look at games with different eyes. “Look at the educational potential on that!”. I agree with several authors, including Raph Koster, that education and entertainment are highly related. That we learn best when we are having fun, and we have fun when we have fresh (appropriate) challenges to take on, and new information to decipher. Computer games are about learning – learning to play. Once we understand this then we look at games and game design with different eyes. In turn this helps us look at educational systems in a new light. It helps if you have played hundreds of games to”grok” the basic notion that games are learning based. However, if we play modern games with our education goggles on its easy to find many interesting approaches to teaching and guiding players through complex worlds so as to overcome increasingly difficult challenges. I like Dead Space’s option to light a path in the direction that you should go next by pressing the right thumbstick . Use it or not, its your choice. Many games that we are nostalgic about never had this option and how many educational processes don’t “light up” the way forward for students. Free choice is all very well until you get irretrievably lost! Other games have ways of guiding the player in a path but Dead Space’s is very slick.

I’ve played most of the MMOs to date but Eve Online is the most intimidating to jump into – its the only MMO that provides a health warning against not working through the beginner tutorials! The complexity of the world and game system is stimulating after exhausting the  possibility space of WoW so quickly. After the level/experience (cloned) grind of most MMOs, I find the time based (rather than task based) skill training refreshing. Leveling up while I’m at work and checking in occasionally to see how I’m getting on. This feels a bit more strategic and simulation based than other MMOs and I appreciate the pace of this game so far in my busy lifestyle. Its not so easy to discover educational metaphors in this process. However, the notion of students being able to investigate their possible educational development by simulating future skill/knowledge advancement in a similar manner to Eve is intriguing.