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Richard Bartle on Games and Learning
For those of you who don’t know Richard Bartle, I suggest you read his exceptional book, Designing Virtual Worlds. It’s a well-earmarked favorite of mine. Richard wrote one of the first text-based multiplayer games on the internet, MUD.
Richard recently posted a blog entry about Games and Learning. Although he comments on “educational games” (which he seems to frown upon), he makes some good points about how games work in learning.
Richard says “Games work by teaching incidentally, that is by missing the point;”. This is exactly what I see. When kids play Age of Mythology, they are not memorizing Greek, Egyptian, and Norse gods. But if they know about the gods they will be more successful. If you were playing a scenario based in the ocean, would you pray to Hades or Poseidon? In order to be successful in a game, you need to master the skills in the game necessary to win. I think this has also been called “stealth learning”.
This is a central idea to COTS games in education; kids have a great time, and learn as they are playing. So it’s not a “direct instruction” thing - it’s an “incidental learning” thing. And with good instructional design (when a teacher reflects with children about the lessons learned) games become a particularly potent learning tool.