I want to take a step back and look at how we look at games for education rather than looking at the learning qualities of the games themselves. That’s a lot of looks. If anything, this is to help myself better understand the context of studying games and learning.
There are many different perspectives that are applied to education research. Playing and Making Games for Learning: Instructionist and Constructionist Perspectives for Game Studies by Yasmin B. Kafai looks at two as they apply to creating games for learning.
Humans spend a massive amount of time playing video games. As you can see by the graphic below, video games are an almost trillion dollar market.
And more mind blowing is the statistic quoted in a post on Kotaku by Katie Cox titled Nearly 6 Million Years of World of Warcraft Healthy for Player’s Brains.
By one analyst’s calculation, the 11 million or so registered users of the online role-playing fantasy World of Warcraft collectively have spent as much time playing the game since its introduction in 2004 as humanity spent evolving as a species-about 50 billion hours of game time, which adds up to about 5.9 million years.
And that mention is only one game in a post written four years ago. There are tens of thousands of games and the industry has grown, so the statistics, I imagine, have grown as well. This gives an idea of how significant video games are to our culture (Kafai, 2006).
Now let’s bring our focus back to Kafai’s article and see what the Instructionist and Constructionist views of games and learning have to say.
Instructionists focus is the “making of instructional education materials,” so when it comes to games, they naturally turn to designing instructional games themselves (Kafai, 2006). This takes the learner out of the process who is expected to only play the game and learn the content without any input in the game’s design, nor do they have a stake in the outcomes. In essence, game design ideas are slapped onto the material to be learned.
The author asks these question, “do we need instructional games to make difficult ideas easy and fun to learn?” as if it is a bad thing. It isn’t a question of a need to make difficult ideas easy and fun to learn, but rather we need to make instructional games framed within an engaging context. Breaking down difficult ideas into manageable to understand chunks isn’t making the ideas easy. I don’t see the harm in placing complex ideas into a fun context.
For Constructionists, rather than integrating the material into a game context, “their goal has been to provide students with greater opportunities to construct their own games—and to construct new relationships with knowledge in the process” (Kafai, 2006).
Educators can more readily follow this approach because “game making does not require expensive technologies to provide learners with the opportunities to develop their programming skills and to design rich and interesting game worlds and characters” (Kafai, 2006). There are many open-source software options for coding, graphic design and game design.
There is a learning curve when it comes to new software and technologies, but that is a foundational part of learning today. The ability to learn new forms of engaging with technology is important to a Constructivist view of games:
the learner is involved in all the design decisions and begins to develop technological fluency. Just as fluency in language means much more than knowing facts about the language, technological fluency involves not only knowing how to use new technological tools but also knowing how to make things of significance with those tools and most important, develop new ways of thinking based on use of those tools. Beyond that, game-making activities offer an entry point for young gamers into the digital culture not just as consumers but also as producers. (Kafai, 2006)
Creating games exclusively for education is one thing, but there is an increasing number of commercial video games that include level and character editors (Kafai, 2006). This allows players to create their own games within the game. How meta.
Game Making Compromise?
Commercial video games are becoming less of a whipping boy for our culture’s ills. We are beginning to expand our understanding of games and their positive impact on our thinking and learning. It is something to consider being that they are a ubiquitous part of our culture.
The two views toward game making and learning described above are competing as “different educators think of using games in different ways, reflecting their different philosophies of education” (Kafai, 2006). I see both approaches as valid. It doesn’t have to be one or the other. It all depends on context. What are the needs of the specific learning environment and the results they want to achieve?
Kafai, Y. B. (2006). Playing and Making Games for Learning: Instructionist and Constructionist Perspectives for Game Studies. Games and Culture,1(1), 36-40. Retrieved February 04, 2017, from http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/1555412005281767