This free Information Age Education Newsletter is written by David
Moursund and Bob Sylwester, and produced by Ken Loge. The newsletter is
one component of the Information Age Education project. See http://iae-pedia.org/
and the end of this newsletter.
Real World and Video Game Realities
Go ahead and accept the premise of the question,
that economics is a real-world concern. That's the easy part. The hard
part is realizing that the things going on inside these video games are
the real world. In terms of human interactions, these places are real. (Edward Castronova; http://www.press.uchicago.edu/Misc/Chicago/096262in.html
Computers have the potential to greatly improve our education
system. So far, however, their contributions have been modest. For
example, students now have much better access to library
materials–especially those available on the Web. Students now make use
of a word processor, which is certainly a great aid to producing a
neatly “typed” document–perhaps containing graphics and graphs–and to
doing editing of their writing.
Many students make use of computer-assisted learning materials,
especially materials that focus on the lower order end of Bloom's
taxonomy of the cognitive domain. Progress is occurring in developing
highly interactive intelligent computer-assisted learning materials
that target the higher end of the cognitive domain.
This issue of the IAE Newsletter focuses on ideas from Dr. Jane
McGonigal about how computer games are going to help solve major
problems our world faces–problems such as hunger, poverty, disease,
global conflict, and sustainability. Her current professional life
focuses on developing video games in which players work on
understanding and helping to solve challenging, real-world problems.
Jane McGonigal is a video game designer and researcher. She
specializes in pervasive gaming and alternate reality games. In 2006,
she was named one of the world's top innovators under the age of 35 by
MIT's Technology Review. Before reading further, you might want to
watch a 20 minute talk she gave earlier this year. See http://www.ted.com/talks/jane_mcgonigal_gaming_can_make_a_better_world.html
Edward Castronova is an economist. He is an associate professor in the
Department of Telecommunications and Director of Graduate Studies at
Indiana University. His quote given above captures the essence of a
major change going on in our world. Jane McGonigal's research and game
development focus on ways to help our education system understand and
benefit by the changes that Castronova foresees.
McGonigal has spent considerable time exploring the online game World of Warcraft
(WoW). This is a very popular massively multiplayer online role-playing
game that has well over 10 million players. In massively multiplayer
role-playing games, individuals and teams of individuals undertake
quite challenging tasks. In the process, their avatars gain in
characteristics such as strength, wealth, and wisdom. According to
McGonical's video talk, WoW players average about 22 hours a week
playing the game.
A January 2010 report from the Kaiser Family Foundation indicates that
8-18 year old children in the U.S. spend an average of over 53 hours a
week using entertainment media. See http://www.kff.org/entmedia/entmedia012010nr.cfm
. This includes gaming, television, music, and so on. It does not include telephone use and instant text messaging.
Ten Thousand Hours
growing up today in the U.S. will have spent 10,000 hours playing
online games by the time they are 21. See the video at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OvVAViDtKeA
Ten thousand hours is frequently quoted as the amount of serious time
and effort it takes a person to become about as good as they can become
in a particular area. If a person has appropriate athletic natural
talents and perseverance, 10,000 hours of practice guided by
well-qualified coaches and trainers will bring them to a world-class
level in various Olympic sports. For chess players and musicians with
natural gifts, the number is apt to be 15,000 hours or so to become
world class. A faculty member in a high quality research university has
typically put in at least 15,000 hours of concentrated study and
research effort to achieve promotion to the associate professor level
These numbers help us understand the tremendous amount of serious
involvement time and effort that young people are now spending in games
such as WoW. Through this extended learning effort, they become highly
skilled in game playing. What drives people to become virtuoso
gamers? Each of these is subject to the difficulty of garbage in,
Each presents learning and use challenges to solving information
processing and retrieval tasks.
Four Key Aspects of Games Such as WoW
Jane McGonigal has identified four key ideas in successful multiplayer online games. The games provide:
- An Epic Mission. Within the virtual world of the game, plays go
on epic “save the world” types of missions. Players face missions that
are doable with their level of skill and experience–but the missions
are quite challenging.
- Collaboration. A mission (a challenging task) is undertaken by a
group of players working together. Collaborative teamwork is a critical
aspect of the game. For many online gamers, gaming is an important part
of their social life.
- Epic Story. For example, WoW is an epic and growing story. The WoW Wiki at http://www.wowwiki.com/Portal:Main contains over 80,000 articles that help to tell and explain the story.
- Epic Win. This idea is common in many computer games. Players
have the opportunity for an epic victory or epic achievement. As they
gain in skill and experience, they face greater challenges and the
opportunity for greater epic wins. Over a period of time, a player can
achieve many epic wins. Think about a player being involved in an epic
win versus a student getting the top score in a math course quiz or
exam. For a great many students, an epic win is a much more satisfying
achievement than scoring well on an exam.
These characteristics drive the game players. Moreover, games such
as WoW have been substantially improved over the years. The games get
better through the work of a large team of game designers and
programmers, research in various aspects of computer science such as
artificial intelligence and computer graphics, and through progress in
the development of more powerful computers. For many players–including
many who are now well into adulthood–such games become increasingly
addictive over time.
Contrast with K-12 Schooling
Some aspects of schooling are similar to the four gaming
ideas listed above. For example, consider students in a musical group
or athletic team. The students are growing both physically and
mentally. They work together in a collaborative manner. They receive
timely feedback from themselves, their peers, and their instructors.
Their participation in the group is an important component of their
day-to-day lives, and it can continue year after year. The same
situation may well exist for students in a Journalism course/club that
puts out a school newspaper, or in a Drama course/club that puts on
school plays. In all of these examples there is some sort of Epic
Story, event, or activity that gets talked about both at school and
outside of school. Students are actively engaged in doing things that
are noticed by, and may well affect, people throughout the school and the
Now consider students in “core” academic areas such as Language Arts,
Math, Science, and Social Studies. State and national assessments, as
well as international comparisons, focus on some of these areas. For
many students in such courses, there is a huge difference from the
types of activities mentioned in the previous paragraph. Typically,
such coursework lacks most of the key ideas of the types of video games
that children and adults spend so much time playing.
Of course, some students excel in these various academic courses. They
compete against other students for high grades. For them, an Epic Win
might be to be the top student in a course, to graduate with a very
high grade point average, or to win a prestigious scholarship and
admission to a top college or university. Such Epic Wins are infrequent
as compared to their frequency in massively multiplayer role-playing
games. In traditional school core subject learning environments, it is
helpful to be able to deal with delayed gratification--indeed, with
gratification that is delayed for quite a long time. See http://i-a-e.org/newsletters/IAE-Newsletter-2009-24.html
. In our current society, a great many people are not good at dealing with such delayed gratification.
You have heard the expressions “different strokes for different folks”
and “beauty is in the eyes of the beholder.” What is currently going on
in education in the United States is an increasing emphasis on “core
academic” coursework. At the same time, there is very large growth in
student participation in gaming and other activities outside of school
hours. Student time spent on gaming and other electronic media per year
is well over twice the time spent in school and doing homework. Our
country is good at producing virtuoso gamers.
Jane McGonigal is interested in developing educational games that have
the characteristics and addictive nature of games such as WoW. The idea
is simple enough. Develop virtual realities in which students are
presented with increasingly challenging real-world problems. Design
games that make it possible for players to do real-world
implementations of the solutions they figure out in the virtual
Many people are working on producing high quality educational game-like
learning environments. Considerable success has been achieved in
various components of areas such as business education, driver
education, medical education, military education, and airplane
pilot training. The games are called serious games. Quoting from http://seriousgames.ning.com/:
A serious game (SG) may be a simulation which has the look and feel of
a game, but corresponds to non-game events or processes, including
business operations and military operations. The games are intended to
provide an engaging, self-reinforcing context in which to motivate and
educate the players. Other purposes for such games include marketing
and advertisement. The largest users of SGs are the US government and
A free eBook “Beyond Fun: Serious Games and Media” is available at http://www.futurelab.net/blogs/marketing-strategy-innovation/2010/03/free_ebook_beyond_fun_serious_.html.
The types of simulations used in serious games are quite similar to the
types of simulations used in representing and helping to solve
real-world problems. They are a fundamental component of Computational
Thinking. See http://iae-pedia.org/Computational_Thinking.
McGonigal's most recent serious game project is named EVOKE. The World Bank Institute funded the project. See http://blog.urgentevoke.net/2010/01/27/about-the-evoke-game/.
About Information Age
Information Age Education is a non-profit organization
improving education for learners of all ages throughout the world. IAE
is a project of the Science Factory, a 501(c)(3) science and technology
museum located in Eugene, Oregon. Current IAE activities include a Wiki
with address http://IAE-pedia.org,
a Website containing free books and articles at http://I-A-E.org, and the
you are now reading.
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