Games development is slowly becoming a central and one of the largest global industries. Right after our basic human needs, where satisfaction and esteem start, and self-actualization follows, right there you will find games. It’s not news that games promise entertainment, and looking at cubs playing you can easily deduct the relationship between play and development, but it is becoming clearer that games are the key to learning and education.
There are of course the official “learning games”. A contradiction in term for kids: “You either let me play and have fun or you want me to study. Don’t try to trick me”, would be the kids words, even if not phrased exactly this way.
But as more social aspects get into the game play, the lesser is the need to insert formal learning curriculum into the games.
Every game is a learning game.
Over the past two years I have been researching games for all ages. Trying almost every new game I came across I’ve been having a very good time. I have an accessible focus groups, my own kids, now ages 7, 11 and 15, and they help me understand how the games work for them. There is a constant struggle between the pure fun time and the school-homework time. Most of the time they do not neglect their school obligations, but I can’t say that the afternoon school time is very obviously contributing more to their learning than the games they play.
To count just a few of the skills they have developed through online games – written verbal communications, social skills, languages (our first language is Hebrew, but in all games the communications are in English, normally begun at 2nd grade), strategic thinking and planning, design, math, memory, self management under stress, commercial and negotiations abilities, persistence and more.
Those game skills have contributed a lot to their school performance. Higher grades in English and math, better understanding and commendable discussions in history classes, improved memory in text based tests, better technical performance and computer command, and great social skills, including the ability to negotiate local peace agreements…
I am a very proud mother but I am not talking only about my kids. These skills are showing up clearly with any kids who play more online games. Observing a class or groups of kids it is easy to detect who is more exposed than others to such games.
The mix of games and education is not new, but the balance is changing. How to mix the two today, that is the question. How best use the need for games and entertainment to improve learning skills and acquire knowledge and education, and how to turn studies into a lot more fun?
Many teachers have been doing it for years: Developing fun activities in the classroom. In the recent years, however, more educators are exposed to the new digital possibilities, such as online games. The question is: can existing games be used for the school curriculum or do game developers need to create new games, according to this curriculum.
I believe a new path has to be created. A middle one. One that would enable adoption of existing games with minor modification to school curriculum, while at the same time, adopting the school curriculum to the games reality.
And this is not only because the games reflect a new reality.
More reading on the subject:
Games Learning Society Conference
Education and Learning Commons
The European ARGuing (Alternate Reality Game) project