Sunday, April 4, 2010

The Potential of Games & Virtual Worlds

One thinks back to (maybe) ten years ago, sitting in an enclosed box-like video game, plastic gun in hand. Stereo speakers are at ear-level, and the visual imagery is amazing on the screen 12 inches from your nose. Placed in the arcade, watching that dinosaur chase you as you ride away in the Jeep while you excitedly rack up more points – how can a person not think that experience is thrilling?

Now, do all human beings enjoy playing digital games? I believe the answer is no. However, I believe most people have a competitive spirit somewhere inside them. That sense of competition may spark someone who normally shies away from digital games to go ahead and try them.

Speaking of technology-haters, there’s my dad. He is a 67-year-old man who refuses to buy a computer, to have an email account, or even to use an ATM card/machine. However, my seven-year-old son and he have spent many afternoons playing baseball on Wii. You see, my dad is very competitive and loves his sports. Consequently, he will gladly play a game of baseball, bowling or even jousting if it means he can beat Luciano at a game! And, he does learn a thing or two along the way.

Now, if you can entice a person to participate competitively in a virtual world/game, you may enrich his/her learning experience. The modeling found in a simulation/virtual environment is very important and may contribute to learning and development of 21st Century Learning Skills. “Because while people learn from their interpreted experiences…models and modeling allow specific aspects of experience to be interrogated and used for problem solving in ways that lead from concreteness to abstraction…it grows as well from comparing and contrasting multiple experiences. But modeling is an important way to interrogate and generalize from experience (Gee 2008.)”

Because of the “emotion” aspect, I believe that games and MUVEs benefit some students more than others. “Emotion appears to be a key source of motivation for driving thinking, learning, and problem solving. Video games, as a form of entertainment, are good at attaching emotion to problem solving, just as films are good at attaching emotion to stories (Gee 2008.)” As stated in the course recommended podcasts and various research articles, there are various academic uses for games and virtual environments. Benefits are reaped by educators transferring skills, and by the “gamers” who are “edutained” in these formats. Persons who take on personas through avatars in fantasy worlds, such as World of Warcraft, are given the opportunity to “act out” in different ways than they might normally in the real world. Prominent companies and even the United States military employ virtual simulations as part of their training exercises to transfer real-life skills to employees. Gaming as a form of entertainment and learning greatly benefits the learners, especially those who expect to be entertained or who simply are “digital natives (Prensky 2001.)”

A substantial benefit of gaming and virtual worlds in educational settings is its conformity with the “digital-native’s” mind. In today’s world, students are consumers and producers. They live in a different culture than what existed 20 years ago. We teachers are products of a different culture than our students, but we must still prepare them for the future, especially in ways that are different from the ones our predecessors used. Our old methods will not be effective, and it is our job to teach the youth and develop in them the skills needed to produce the desired outcome – success in their future academic and professional careers. We need to teach them essential skills, such as good judgment, internet navigation, creative “play,” collective intelligence, etc. These skills will enable our students to make meaningful connections with people all over the world, in whichever context on the internet, but perhaps more successfully through MUVEs. Recalling a quote by Marc Prensky from his article “Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants,” he states that “students think and process information fundamentally differently from their predecessors.” Therefore, if teachers accept the fact that students’ thinking patterns have changed, it is in their best interest to help them learn in the Digital-Native style. An instructor who has the initiative to create learning activities using a MUVE enables students to manage information efficiently. Teachers expect students to absorb, analyze and create (information); why not teach them using a Digital-Native style? And how better to analyze, collaborate and create than in an “authentic” situation in gaming? Again, gaming and virtual worlds in education may prove advantageous.

Current References:

Gee, J. P. (2008). Learning and Games. The Ecology of Games: Connecting Youth, Games, and Learning. Edited by Katie Salen. The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation Series on Digital Media and Learning. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press. 21–40. doi: 10.1162/dmal.9780262693646.021

Prensky, M. (2001). Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants. MCB UP Ltd Bradford, West Yorksire: England.

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