Saturday, July 24, 2010

To Game or Not to Game

A few months ago, I came across this article on CBC.ca about Why Video Games Are the Future Of Business and Women Are Getting On Board.
Gaming is reaching a new audience in the business world, where it functions as a superb training and operations tool. In videogames, employers are also finding exercises for brainstorming and collaboration as well as performance evaluation. The trend is palpable and growing.

Women are increasingly eager to ride the game wave. Many find gaming helps them increase their comfort level with technology and assist their career advancement. "The average age of gamers in the U.S. is 35," says Phaedra Boinidiris, founder of WomenGamers.com and product manager for IBM's Serious Games Group. "In fact, 38 per cent of console gamers and 43 per cent of PC gamers are women. The stereotype of a gamer as a 14-year-old boy couldn't be further from the truth."

While using games to simulate real-life events seems safe, reliable and financially prudent, the skills gained can be directly applied to business. Esther Lim, CEO of digital-marketing firm The Estuary, says game play teaches collaboration, a critical management skill. "Often serious games are built to be collaborative," she says."That means you share information, brainstorm and problem solve with others to achieve the next level of interaction, story or outcome."

There's lots more good stuff in the article, including more positive things about World of Warcraft.
Consider "World of Warcraft," developed by Blizzard Studios, which holds the Guinness World Record for the most subscribed massively multiplayer online role-playing game (MMORPG), with over 10 million players worldwide. "We see grade schoolers managing guilds of players from around the globe, participating in teamwork, assigning special tasks," says Steinberg.

Each player's skill levels are completely transparent to the other players, which enable team members to assess one another's skill sets and collaboratively select the best leader for any given task. "What if that were adopted in the corporate realm?" adds Boinidiris. "What if the leader of a business could be selected solely for his skill set?" Office politics might go out the window.

I recently watched a fantastic video where two educators discuss how they use World of Warcraft with "at risk" students in an after school program. (This was a talk given in a Second Life forum, which is why they are speaking as their avatars.) They refer to the ideas and research of Constance Steinkhueler, who speaks to the literacy (both language-based and social) development inherent in games. It's worth the 45 minutes to hear about their experience and the research that supports it.

Here's my condensed version of their main talking points: "Bring it into [life], stand by them, and do it with them." And when we do that, any fear we have about it (technology, gaming) will dissipate.

And of course, there is the study that says that the surgeon you want is the person who has spent plenty of time gaming.

Ronnie's blog has a piece on why Gamers are the future (and the future is now) in which she refers to a blog post by a grown unschooler, Anna, who points out 10 Skills You Practice by Playing Video Games.

Anna offers an interesting perspective at the end of her post:
Gaming, like anything else, is best done in balance. Addiction to anything can be harmful. It’s about knowing when to stop, and having the ability to control what you do and when you do it. Enjoying something doesn’t have to be an addiction.

Parents new to unschooling worry about their kids watching TV and playing video games all day. It doesn’t need to be such a negative idea.

What’s the harm with a little fun?

Indeed.

I especially appreciate her comment, "Enjoying something doesn't have to be an addiction." My parents could have considered me addicted to reading as a kid if they didn't value my enjoyment of reading. I still can become fully immersed in a good book to the point of being unaware of the environment around me.

I recently read a very sad story in Wired Magazine about a boy in China whose parents sent him to an internet addiction camp because he spent a few hours a day online. Obsessed With the Internet: A Tale From China certainly made me rethink some of my biases toward kids spending time gaming and on the computer.

I've found a couple of wonderful video presentations by women who are academics and game designers. The first is Katie Salen, a game designer and a professor at Parsons School of Design. Katie talks about why gaming works better than a classroom in terms of kids' learning.








The second is Jane McGonigal, a game designer who directs Research and Development at the Institute for the Future. Jane discusses how gaming can make a better world.








I find it interesting that so many proponents of gaming (especially with respect to education and kids) are women.

UPDATE:

There is a fantastic article in the September 15 New York Times. Learning by Playing: Video Games in the Classroom by Sara Corbett. It's a fantastic read and mentions some of the cutting edge research on the educational applications of video gaming.
What if teachers gave up the vestiges of their educational past, threw away the worksheets, burned the canon and reconfigured the foundation upon which a century of learning has been built? What if we blurred the lines between academic subjects and reimagined the typical American classroom so that, at least in theory, it came to resemble a typical American living room or a child’s bedroom or even a child’s pocket, circa 2010 — if, in other words, the slipstream of broadband and always-on technology that fuels our world became the source and organizing principle of our children’s learning? What if, instead of seeing school the way we’ve known it, we saw it for what our children dreamed it might be: a big, delicious video game?
The key points are:

"...digital games are central to the lives of today’s children and also increasingly, as their speed and capability grow, powerful tools for intellectual exploration."

"At its best, game design can be an interdisciplinary exercise involving math, writing, art, computer programming, deductive reasoning and critical thinking skills. If children can build, play and understand games that work, it’s possible that someday they will understand and design systems that work. And the world is full of complicated systems."

"One topic under discussion is the broader question of “transfer,” whether a skill developed by playing a game actually translates to improved abilities in other areas. They also note that we are only just beginning to tease apart the mechanisms that make game play so powerful."

"“A game is nothing but a set of problems to solve,” Gee says. Its design often pushes players to explore, take risks, role-play and strategize — in other words putting a game’s informational content to use."

"E. O. Wilson, the renowned Harvard evolutionary biologist, has lauded digital games for their ability to immerse and challenge players in vivid, virtual environments. “I think games are the future in education,” Wilson said in an interview with the game designer Will Wright last year. “We’re going through a rapid transition now. We’re about to leave print and textbooks behind.”"

"This concept is something that Will Wright [Sims, Spore] refers to as “failure-based learning,” in which failure is brief, surmountable, often exciting and therefore not scary. A well-built game is, in essence, a series of short-term feedback loops, delivering assessment in small, frequent doses."

"“They play for five minutes and they lose,” he [Ntiedo Etuck of Tabula Digita] says. “They play for 10 minutes and they lose. They’ll go back and do it a hundred times. They’ll fail until they win.” He adds: “Failure in an academic environment is depressing. Failure in a video game is pleasant. It’s completely aspirational.”"

"Paul Gee and others in the games-and-learning field have suggested that someday, if we choose to channel our resources into developing more and better games for use in classrooms, the games themselves could feasibly replace tests altogether. Students, by virtue of making it through the escalating levels of a game that teaches, say, the principles of quantum physics, will demonstrate their mastery simply by finishing the game. Or, as Gee says: “Think about it: if I make it through every level of Halo, do you really need to give me a test to see if I know everything it takes to get through every level of Halo?”"

It's a terrific read. And if you don't have the time to read the whole thing, you can watch the video.