Students of the Game
It’s difficult to predict exactly how our society will unlock the power of games in the coming decades, but video games have already influenced the fields of science, education, and business. An examination of how these disciplines have profited from gaming concepts could give us a glimpse of our future.
We’ve exploited one of gaming’s most useful applications for centuries. Chess was used in the Middle Ages to teach war strategies to noblemen. In the ‘70s, computer games like Oregon Trail did a better job of getting kids excited about American history than most history professors. Today, hundreds of web portals like Kidsknowit.com offer teachers a reservoir of tools to help educate students. Games are an indispensable learning tool, but we’ve only begun to scratch the surface of their teaching potential.
“Almost all educational games suck,” says Iowa State University professor Douglas A. Gentile, who has spent his career researching how video games affect children. “They don’t put nearly the same level of attention and resources into them as something like Halo.
I’d be surprised if they get 1/100th the resources Halo does. So much of the public debate about games has been sidetracked by tragedy. We wring our hands about the cause of violence in society, and there really is no one cause. Our ability to move forward with intelligent approaches to studying and discussing games really keeps getting sidetracked by media violence.”
Many modern – even violent – games might be better teaching tools than we realize. The Assassin’s Creed series allows gamers to explore classic locales sprinkled with real historical details. Rocksmith teaches people how to play guitar, and The Typing of the Dead improves horror fans’ typing skills. The upcoming indie title Code Hero even hopes to teach young programmers how to design games.
I think games can provide a framework for understanding contemporary issues such as governmental budgets and spending,” Przybylski says. “I’d bet SimCity veterans have a less distorted views of current city/state/federal expenditures compared to the general public.”