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Learning, education and games, volume 1 – Karen Schrier

Volume One: Curricular and Design Considerations

I am thrilled to introduce this brand new book series, Learning, Education and Games, which examines the latest research and design techniques for creating and using games for learning. This is the first book in a two-book series, which was written, edited, and reviewed by members of the Learning, Education and Games (LEG) Special Interest Group (SIG), a subset of the International Game Developers Association (IGDA).

But first, let us take a step back. Is there even a connection between games and learning? Popular opinion and mainstream media seem to suggest that games, if anything, are the antithesis to learning. On the other hand, my experiences during the past decade have repeatedly reminded me how much learning and games are interconnected. I observed how the power of play helps us experiment with new identities, safely explore choices and consequences, and push the boundaries of a system. I experienced how games provide access to new worlds and alternate systems of values, past moments of history, and social interaction with people from diverse cultures, perspectives, and experiences. I saw how games could situate learning in authentic contexts, such as environmental disaster zones for science learning, physical battle sites for history learning, foreign countries for language learning, or even in real texts for literature and literacy learning.

Essential skills—from math facts acquisition to vocabulary building to civic literacy—could be taught through games, if the games were properly designed. The potential for teaching complex thinking skills—such as creativity and innovation, ethical thinking, design and problem solving, systems thinking, and computational understanding—also seem to be suggested by burgeoning research.

On the flip side, we know there are limits to what any game can do, just like any educational program, process, or activity. One game may fit a particular pedagogical need, audience, and set of goals and constraints, while the same game could be inappropriate in a different context. One game may support certain learning styles or skill needs, but not others. Just as the potentials of games for learning have been suggested, the limits also need to be identified. We need to not only understand whether a game can teach, but the conditions under which it can (or cannot) help someone learn.

Assessing the efficacy of games in support of the acquisition and long-term practice of skills and concepts in games has shown to be challenging. While assessing other types of educational interventions and programs is often tricky, games—and their many factors, ecologies, and contexts—may confound us even further. Despite these challenges, in the past decade or so, the attention to and research of games and learning has blossomed exponentially.

Likewise, there has been an increase in the creation and use of learning games in classrooms and informal education sites (e.g., afterschool, libraries, home), as well as a growth in the number of websites, applications, and other media devoted to educational games. With the advent of more accessible and open game tools, engines, and platforms, there is also an emerging indie scene of educational game makers.

Games and gaming for learning have also crept into unexpected corners—from the government to the workplace, hospitals and doctor’s offices, and the military.

Although the term gamification has been bandied about more recently to discuss games being used in not-typically-game contexts, people have been trying to design powerful and engaging experiences using good games for years. While espousing the pros and cons of “gamification” is not the focus of this book series, the fact that the use of this term has increased so rapidly (though perhaps in misaligned contexts), further suggests a need to reevaluate the intersection of games and learning.

Despite all of the technological, social, and economic innovations that have allowed us to create, play, iterate on, replicate, and research digital games, we also cannot overlook the many forms games can take. Games—whether digital, hybrid, virtual, analog, online, offline, console, web-based, text-based, graphics-intensive, or mobile—are, at their core, games. Human beings have been playing games, and learning from games, since the start of humankind. We cannot forget that games are, at their essence, about sharing and communicating truths about ourselves. And, if you play a game, no matter what you have learned something—which is, at the very least, how to play the game.

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