Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Games and Learning

Someone recently asked me this question:

"If you look at Sim type games, for example Roller Coaster Tycoon, these are without question games that are filled with lessons and real-world applicable knowledge. Do you think kids go into a game like this knowing they're learning useful skills?"

My response, slightly edited:

I have two young adult daughters, and I'm an aunt - my nieces and nephews ages range from 12 -19. I've watched kids play games for years. From my perspective, the younger kids DO understand that they are learning.

The missing link? Adults who understand what kids are learning, and who also have the means to help mediate this learning in a meaningful way. We don't have many tools to support parents and educators with this task.

That's why I think adults need some brushing up to do. I think all parents and educators need to read a bit of James Gee, Mark Prensky, Henry Jenkins, etc.

Ideally, all games should come with a parent/educator "friendly" set of directions, so that they can understand what the game is about, and also learn how to play it without having to rely so much on the kids.

(This concept is what I call "Guiding the Guider", a concept that applies to a variety of situations, such as the use of technology in the health care fields, including elder care.)

Personally, I'd love it if games came with a "silly adult" mode, sort of like a training mode, but with more information about the deeper structure of the game and the "lessons" that it can teach.

I also think that schools need to spend some time beefing up the curriculum to address the skills students will need in the future, such as multimedia/visual literacy and technology.

Listen to the Natives

James Gee
What Video Games Have to Teach Us about Learning and Literacy

Henry Jenkins
Eight Myths about Video Games Debunked

Educational Games Research

1 comment:

David Boulton said...

Always an interesting conversation. I began thinking about the relationship between video games and learning back in 1990. Back then I wrote "From Here to Implicity" and one of it's points was about video games:

About two years ago I used a VCR and microphone to record a group of three to five year olds as they were playing Nintendo games. I wanted to understand what made the Nintendo experience so engageable for children. Having wired them up, I asked them to describe what they were doing and then became invisible.

From previous observations it was clear that themes (i.e., Batman, Turtles, etc...), whizzy sounds, and sophisticated color graphics were not the real issues. While they attracted the child's initial interest, some of the most apparently spectacular games were missing something that others far less so had - the ability to sustain the child's engagement. My hunch was that underneath all the multi-media whiz-bang was a special quality of engagement between child and game that emerged if the game's deeper rhythms of play were compatible with the child's nervous system.

What I discovered was that the most engagable Nintendo experiences shared certain “deep dynamics”. They all involved moving through a matrix of challenges and obstacles, learning certain movement skills and dexterities, using one's “energy” or “lives” judiciously, and most importantly, learning when and how to: freeze the game playing, jump “off-line” to a resource screen, select a resource with which to overcome an obstacle, re-engage the play screen and employ the resource to move ahead (resources might be ladders, hammers, magic potions, jewels, rafts, money, food, a consulting wizard, etc..).

I still remember how I felt as I started to see beneath the surface of the game playing. The conceptual dexterities of these kids were stunning - here they were manipulating a rich tapestry of logical types, levels of inference, multiple contingencies, numerous specific meanings - doing it all very dynamically - and all with an effortlessness that was breathtaking to behold. I couldn't help but thinking they were practicing the future - not the content - somehow, I felt, they were practicing the future process of processing. How was it that these kids could deal with so many interrelated contingencies and meanings at once?

Asking that question and reviewing the tapes, I saw there were cycling rhythms of challenge, frustration, creative resource application and renewal that were at the core of why they enjoyed playing the games. Yes, the sound and graphic effects were important components but it was the way the games allowed the children to creatively act upon their own frustrations - the cycle of relevancy, challenge, frustration, and resolution - all happening in real time compatibility with the ACTUAL child's attention, that I found to be the key.

From: http://www.implicity.org/implicit.htm