Using Games to Improve the World

English: Game designer and author Jane McGonig...

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I’m glad I watched the video below after the previous TED Talk. While I was trying to remain positive, the images of war in the other TED Talk really hit my pessimistic site while this video fired up my optimist regarding the potential of games. Jane McGonigal made a convincing argument for how we can use video games to change the world.

What caused me to feel better about the potential of video games? Jane pointed out that it is with great optimism that we approach games. We believe we can solve the problems of a virtual world. We only need to encourage the same belief and optimism in the real world in order to put those skills to good use.

Jane McGonigal – TED from Calixte Pictet on Vimeo.

During the video, Jane McGonigal shared three games she created that encourage gamers to develop the skills needed to improve the world. I haven’t played them yet, but they look interesting. If you want to check them out, they are World Without Oil, Evoke, and Superstruck (which looks like it’s not available to play anymore).

The games McGonigal created teach skills necessary to solve current world problems. World Without Oil puts the player in the middle of a global oil crisis. Players have to learn how they will survive, how they need to change their actions based on the price of oil and food and other situations in order to make it another day.

In general, gamers turn to games to get away from the real world. Sometimes that may be because in the virtual gaming world, they get the feedback and positive strokes they don’t receive in real life. They also get to feel a part of something bigger. Games can set up just-right-sized challenges that, when met, empower and encourage the player to continue their pursuit.

In school, students who aren’t “good” at studying, are often faced with a day of negative feedback. They are constantly reminded what they are not good at. But in games, they can be good at something. They receive points and badges and awards that prove they are good at something.

By using the best elements of video games, we can engage and encourage students to take on just-right-sized challenges that help them develop the skills and understanding they need to be successful right now while also preparing them for their futures.

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Video Game Potential

Today I watched a TED talk about where we have come and where we may be going with video games. The purpose of the talk wasn’t directly connected to using games in education. It was more about how the video game industry has developed exponentially–in profits, users, and, most importantly, in innovation. If the video game industry continues on a similar trajectory, where could they take us in years to come? The graphics alone have become so life-like that they are almost even more beautiful than what we see in real life.

While I am awed by the potential of video games, I also carry a deep concern over the direction video games have taken. Seeing the history of war and fighting video games in this talk stirred fear over what’s next. I personally do not think it’s a benefit for children or adults to participate in realistic killing “games”. That’s just one negative story line video games have latched on to. What will they choose to capitalize on next?

With the current emphasis on using games in education, the optimist in me hopes the video-game industry uses their creativity, innovation and stunning, realistic graphics to create games that inspire learning while teaching the benefits of collaboration and communication.


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Educational Games and Simulations

One of my first quests for Edtech 532 involved watching this TED talk.  I have seen much better videos about gaming and how to use their mechanics in education. But this video is a good introduction if you haven’t read much about gaming. It starts with some staggering statistics on how much we are spending on games. The speaker, Tom Chatfield, eventually explains 7 ways in which games engage us. It’s a bit dry, but informative.

During the video, I found myself musing about creating a game-based learning math course. There are so many resources on the web (mostly low quality, but there are a few gems) that it seems like it would be easy enough to pull together a set of activities to create at least a mini-math quest. Without creating a few of my own tools or using offline materials, I could not cover all of the skills expected by the Common Core State Standards for any grade. But I could definitely create a game that could be used as a component of a math course. The teaching would happen offline, in the classroom. The game would be a way for students to maintain math skills they had learned. It would be the “spoonful of sugar” that would make homework more enjoyable.

Eventually, it is my goal to create a math game that does teach, in addition to provide practice, in a game-based format. This game will engage students, put them in the drivers seat of math in way that helps them understand it in a meaningful way, not just a memorization of rules. Students will learn math by doing math in situations they find interesting. Doing so will require a team of software developers, math education whizzes, and all sorts of creative types, just as game developers do. I am certain my ideas for this game will continue to morph this semester. I’ll be throwing out what doesn’t work and pulling in more of what works. It’ll be an interesting process of refinement that I am curious to see develop over the coming months.


AECT Standards

1.1 Instructional Systems Design — Viewing and reflecting on this video gave me the opportunity to analyze elements of game-based learning. These elements, when combined thoughtfully in gaming applications, can be key to engaging and motivating students to go beyond the effort they may normally put towards their learning.

2.3 Computer Based Technologies — The mechanics of game-based learning are best managed and most effective when they are incorporated into computer-based technologies. Computers allow us to analyze bits of data and tailor education in a way that’s just not possible in a non-digital format.

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