Bill MacKenty

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Answering serious questions about serious games

Posted in Games in education on 16 - October 2010 at 01:13 PM (13 years ago). 271 views.

Every once in a while, I get questions and queries about games in education. I've successfully used games in the classroom for a while, and I like to share my success and failures with games and learning. I take the role of a classroom teacher, and now a director of technology when I answer these questions.

Here's the latest question, and my answers.

I'm interested in having game developers and others involved in serious games share their thoughts on the opportunities, challenges/frustrations and lessons learned when interacting with schools and other educational institutions. My general impression is that, while people are optimistic about serious games, its impact on education has been slow, and I would like to understand why. You are free to elaborate on this topic, or you can focus on one or more of these questions:

What should game developers start or stop doing when designing, marketing and implementing serious games?

Serious games are one category of games that really work in the classroom (here is a post I wrote about other classes and categories of games). Game developers should keep doing what they are doing when designing and implementing serious games. Marketing? I'm not sure. The challenges in introducing serious games in education is the same as introducing any type of game in education; games are frivolous, waste of time, etc... I suppose a marketing campaign that directly addressed this would be good; "we played a serious game and now our neighborhood is different". In the serious games movement we often hear "games for change" Show me the change.

What do you want schools/teachers/administators to understand about games?

That they are tremendously valuable. They increase motivation, attendance, enthusiasm, and time on task. That especially with serious games, there is clear, measurable learning. For computer games in general, they are powerful learning tools IF THESE ARE USED WELL. If you sit a kid in front of a computer for an hour and expect something magic to happen, you will be dissapointed. My position is in order for games to be successful, you must use good instructional design. Good teaching is good teaching is good teaching.

What kind of research should game researchers conduct? (I.e. what kind of evidence would you like to have that would further support the benefits for using games in education?)

Jesus. Please don't link serious games to increased test scores. This is very tricky in my mind. How are we defining benefit? What is learning? What does successful implementation of a serious game look like? What is success with serious games?

What kind of feedback do you get (if any) and what do you do with it?

From parents: concern but trust. If you are stupid about the way you use games, then you will have earned the wrath of your parents. If you only play games, without discussing or teaching then, really, the kids are "just playing games". But if you carefully use games in a clear manner, you will have no parent problems. Remember: parents have a good bullshit detector, and they trust teachers to teach well until proven otherwise.

From students: they love games, even when you are asking them to think about it. Kids are wired to learn through play.

From administrators: If you have an administrator who is properly evaluating your staff with real teaching evaluations, then they will look at your use of games in the classroom through the lens of improving instruction. The honest truth? Most administrators dont understand how technology makes a difference in student learning. So any discussion of administrators and serious games exsists in this context.

What are some of the biggest challenges facing serious games?

Serious games faces challenges on two fronts; that they aren't "real games" and they aren't "serious". Both challenges are easily countered.

Challenge: Serious games aren't "real games" (spoken from a Starcraft 2 player). Answer: shut up. Serious games are fun, allowing players to manipulate discrete variables to better understand a real-life situation. Go kill some zerg.

Challenge: serious games aren't serious. Answer: shut the hell up. People learn from play. Go watch John Stewart and learn something.

How often do game developers work directly with teachers during the process of game design? Do you think more frequent collaboration would help make games more acceptable?

No. I think teachers and instructional designers fuck up game design - they turn a game into an edutainment title (go answer 5 math problems, and then play a minigame, repeat). Better to invite a game designer. You need to understand the underlying dynamics that you are manipulating (example the swine flu serious games - you need to know how swine flu spreads to model it).