It's pretty much a fact, most kids love video games. It's also true that most parents are not enthused by their kid's gaming habits. While it's easy to see the value in educational games, is there really any educational value in a game like the Sims? We recently attended a great seminar which turned our ideas of gaming, learning, and their place in the home upside down.
Who shook up our ideas on gaming? James Gee at a recent seminar from by the Hechinger Institute. Jame Gee is a member of the National Academy of Education and is an author whose most recent books deal with video games, language, and learning. During this seminar he demonstrated quite persuasively that good video games are designed to enhance learning through effective learning principles supported by research in the Learning Sciences.
What makes a good video game great for learning?
A good video game will teach problem solving which is an important skill to learn, more important in the age of digital information than memorizing certain facts and formulas which can be easily located.
Every good video game is challenging but not too frustrating. The game designer wants you to learn and feel accomplishment without giving up. Good video games are experiences that have learning at their core with built-in mentoring.
By playing video games, kids learn that it is OK to fail and that often failing a few times is necessary to achieve success. Because the risk factor is low with trying new solutions and quests, kids are more prone to experiment and give it a shot.
Video games have built-in assessment which let kids know where they are and what areas they need to improve in. This allows kids to look objectively at things they are good at and work at improving areas where they are weaker.
Playing the game is usually not the whole experience as many good games have thriving communities developed around the game. These communities give kids a way to delve deeper into the game and increase their social interaction with peers around something they are passionate about.
When asked to provide some game examples, James Gee highlighted these three:
Portal: This game is well designed and is a fantastic educational experience both while playing the game and in communities that are developed around the game. James Gee cited several of these communities where kids were discussing physics concepts that they researched independently because they were trying to solve a game puzzle discussed in game forums.
The Sims: While it might be surprising to see this game in this list, The Sims does offer non-traditional learning opportunities. One of the best ways for kids to learn with this game is by providing challenges. An example James Gee provided was to "live the life of a single mother on a budget," which players found challenging and enlightening.
Foldit: Clearly the most educational of the titles on the list, the concept behind Foldit is to solve puzzles for science. Foldit is a computer game that enables players to contribute to important scientific research via protein folding puzzles.
We think James Gee makes some great points and it has caused us to rethink some of our ideas on kids and video games. With our lives being more and more dominated by technology, problem solving skills have never been less important and we think that tech that cultivates those skills should be encouraged in humans of all ages, and particularly in young ones.