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  • A Look at Serious Games

    [07.22.10]
    - Liam Morrow
  •  Video games will change the way we learn. They are learning tools which teach us skills relevant to our everyday lives despite most games not being primarily designed for education. This is because games are a motivating and rewarding experience which makes learning more fun and pleasurable. Learning from video games occurs in a variety of ways.

    Video games develop a wide range of skills vital to other areas of learning including multitasking and analytical thinking. This occurs especially in open-ended games such as SimCity where in order to succeed players must manage several channels of information while assessing past mistakes simultaneously (Dumbleton & Kirriemuir, 2006). Games being cultural texts are vital in learning about the world around us. When we play games we inhabit the lives of characters in completely different social groups and therefore experience ideologies and values different to our own.

    By experiencing new cultures, games teach us to understand the world from new perspectives (Salen & Zimmerman, 2003). Video games also teach and encourage us to be creative and imaginative. They do this through end-user development techniques such as modding which allows the player to explore the game outside its original boundaries (Dare, 2004). Despite the immense potential of games as learning tools critics have claimed that skills learned in games cannot be transferred to real life. However studies have shown that this view is based on perception and games significantly improve the minds of players.

    As the games industry learns to accept the teaching potential of games we will see developers supplement more educational content in their creations resulting in games becoming a recognised and respected learning tool. By providing both an engaging and enjoyable experience games are a learning tool which can teach us skills relevant in our everyday lives (Gee, Squire, Halverson, & Shaffer, 2004).

    Games and Scientific Thinking

    Games and game-like activities are vital to both children and adults for growth and development. Gameplay provides and promotes the development and formation of thinking as well as helping structure identities, values and norms of society. Games can be used as a tool where the player has the freedom to explore, create, manipulate and experiment with scenarios in a creative environment without boundaries. Because of this, games are a motivating and rewarding experience where the player consciously or subconsciously learns every time they play (Arnseth, 2006).

    Through play, learning is embedded into video games which develop vital skills crucial to other areas of learning. Prensky describes this learning as occurring on five 'levels' which apply to a greater or lesser extent every time we pick up a controller. The most explicit level 'how' explains the process of how we learn to play games. When we play a new game we must learn the rules, physical manipulations (controls) and limitations.

    Often this can only be accomplished through experimentation and exploration of the game mechanics as we learn the opportunities and restrictions the game presents us. These skills we learn transfer to non-game specific skills which we use in real life. StarCraft and other real-time strategy games involve interpreting many information sources at once such as controlling units, managing resources and planning combat. The skills developed in games which are necessary to succeed draws a parallel between multitasking in games and reality (Prensky, 2002).

    Another level of learning 'What' involves learning the limitations of the game environment in order to develop strategies on how best to play the game. To succeed, players must experiment with tactics to determine what does and does not work often through trial and error (the thought process behind scientific thinking). SimCity is an example of a game which requires players to formulate and experiment with strategies in order to succeed. It is an open-ended game with no goals or objectives where players must manage resources build infrastructure and allocate funds in order to build the ultimate city.

    As players build larger cities, more variables influence gameplay as players must manage factors including crime, traffic and taxes simultaneously. Players must experiment with these changing variables and predict the outcomes of their actions while analysing past mistakes in order to improve (Dumbleton & Kirriemuir, 2006). By developing skills such as multitasking and analytical thinking which can be used in other areas of learning, video games become a vital learning tool which helps in our everyday lives despite the fact that games such as SimCity and StarCraft were not primarily designed for educational purposes.

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