Games – Dangerously Irrelevant?

SCOTT McLEOD remarked on his blog that he had some questions about ‘educational games’; so in spirit of 21days of being positive, I’d like to try and answer them – and perhaps he might send me a flashing badge.

Picture 11

screenshot from : Dangerously Irrelevant

Does the quality of the graphics matter when it comes to educational games?

Graphics of any description matter, as research suggest that over 60% of people today are visual learners. So whenever you place an image in front of someone it sends a message to the brain. I noticed for example; that in the cluster of game samples Scott posted, there was this one. Quality is not just ‘resolution’ but the modality of the image itself; what reaction, emotion or instruction does it prompt.

Graphics are a component of game-play; although some of the biggest games of 80s were text only; and such as First Age in such a case graphics did not matter at all. Here is a list of online text-games. CD-Rom Games such as the Magic School Bus; had lots of graphics but lacked any real game-play.

We have to differentiate the role of ‘toons’ and graphics from what they are doing; and therefore the importance of the graphics is directly related to objective – in a flight simulator – yes if you are teaching pilots.

Prensky (2002) “The reason computer games are so engaging is because the primary objective of the game designer is to keep the user engaged. They need to keep that player coming back, day after day, for 30, 60 even 100+ hours, so that the person feels like he has gotten value for his money (and, in the case of online games, keeps paying.) That is their measure of success.

In Warcraft; the graphics are not as important and the social-hobby nature of the game; or the game’s ability to train a player though resonance. What is important perhaps is that the social contructs that interplay with the story. They are MORE important that the graphics; AI; gameplay etc; Some games will suffer mouse-lag due to the intensity of the graphics; Arma2 for example – yet the realism and game play will be forgiven. Others – such as the new Harry Potter has amazing graphics; but almost no meaningful game play. Much of the discussion in ‘gaming development’ today is around story telling; not graphics.

So in conclusion –  NO they don’t matter in the context I think the question was asked.

just how bad are most of these so-called ‘educational games?’

Some are terrible; as they are designed from the perspective of being ‘edu-entertaining’ – with instructional design or didactic skills development. Students, according to Pew Internet Research (2009) are more engaged with social gaming that any other form of social media; yet in school ‘games’ are classified distinctly as an add-on to the disciplinary learning. So if you are looking to occupy a mind – get your games from the sales floor at NECC.

To understand what ‘good games’ are; look towards alternate reality games or a project such as WoWinSchool (check out some of the academic research we’ve added to that project). Let me look at ‘bad’ in an example of one augemented reality game – Webkinz.

What kind of bad?

Webkinz – is ‘bad’ in a different way. A Webkins are plush toys with an online alter-ego and virtual lives – online. It is designed for pre-schoolers.  There are some 255 ‘classes’ of webskins, and even have a foundation to ‘help children’. There is in this tremendous potential to engage young learners; but at the same time the focus for the product is commercial sales driven. The site itself has a number of positive ‘skills’ development attributes and millions of users. This is bad for education; and the time pre-schoolers are spending in playing with commercial interests; takes away from perhaps doing something else. We must recognise that we need to adapt the popular activities of children in games – to learning; not try to create alternatives. Take a walk into Toys R Us – there are hundreds of products; all with an up-sell online using social gaming as a new revenue channel. More on Webkinz at Wikipedia.

So what is out there that’s comparable in the commercial downloadable/DVD educational games sector? Anything good?

The important concept to me here; is that we should not be looking to the past or for comparisons at all. We have to look to market research, massive game conferences such as E3 and to research such as Pew – all of which suggest that what many call the ’21st Century Skills’ are present in current social gaming. So in many ways; we can argue that classroom blogs; wikis etc or the lack of – will not prevent students from demonstrating the ability to communication; seek information; filter; make choices; solve problems; form communities; collaborate etc.,

Like anything; the teacher has to have that magical ability : conceptualisation – The games industry is not interested in educational games as a genre; it is not profitable; yet there are some online games that do work  – Mathletics being the obvious example. There are numerous ‘games’ being used – though adaptation; and being tempted to look for ‘learning in a box’ is a road to disaster. All learning must be blended.

The ‘games in learning gap’.

What is concerning is that games, despite overwhelming research, are seen as outside the current ‘web2.0’ fenzy of blogs, wikis, podcasts and Nings – yet more kids play them and interact with games than FaceBook, MySpace et al,. With a little creativity and planning, there is no reason at all that Wii – Fit, Nintendogs, Warcraft or even Grand Theft Auto can’t be adapted and used as a motivator. Motivation is the most important power of gaming – yet few Web2.0-fanbois explore it in the classroom with students, so we might say we’re missing 50% of the motivational opportunity to engage students.


2 thoughts on “Games – Dangerously Irrelevant?

  1. While the commercialism of Webkinz World may be ‘bad’ for younger kids, I feel you may be ignoring one of the benefits of the environment — it’s a closed platform that doesn’t allow kids to share personal information and keeps them out of trouble!

    • If this we’re true, I would not advocate using it to teachers – and put it in a recently published book.

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