Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Games and Education: Your Input Is Desired

Hi everyone, Kirk here. In addition to working in the lucrative field of professional videogame blogging, I am a jazz instructor at the very groovy Urban School of San Francisco. Urban is a progressive private school in the Haight Ashbury district, and to complement its nontraditional approaches to the classroom, the school rolls at the bleeding edge of technology. I've written about the school's laptop program on my own blog, but the short version is that Urban is a a nationally-renowned leader in the field, and the way that all that tech is seamlessly integrated into daily student life is essentially unprecedented.

This is my first year as a member of the Urban Digital Innovators Group (DIG), where some of the school's more tech-savvy teachers and students get together to freely brainstorm new techniques and technologies for the classroom. Teachers are setting up wikis, using motion-capture and video-capture technology, coming up with new ways to use smartboards, and doing all manner of other groovy stuff.

For my contribution, I'm working on a presentation about gaming, specifically focusing on the intersection of games and learning, with an eventual goal of giving a presentation to the faculty at large, and after that, possibly taking it outside the school to a wider audience.

I'm meeting with the DIG to do some brainstorming today, and so, fair Gamer Melodico readers, I'm putting it to you to suggest any books, interviews, essays, or webpages that I could use to better flesh out our meeting, or to help me build the presentation going forward. What I'm looking for is links, articles, posts, books, videos... anything really. Throw them in the comments here, send them my way on Twitter, or just email me.

I've already got some good stuff, and it's become clear that the GLS conference is kind of the end-all be-all for this kind of thinking, so I'm going to have to try to scrounge together some funding to get myself to Wisconsin this June. But anything at all that you could suggest would be helpful.

The general ideas for my presentation are below. Thanks!

I'm focusing on several different avenues of thought, and want to figure out which one is the "stickiest" for educators. Various areas of focus could include:
  • A primer for the teachers on what kind of games are out there, and what kids are playing. Probably also a concise dismantling of the most common misconceptions and stereotypes related to games, along with a balanced look at the challenges and problems that games can raise.
  • A tour of the artistic side of gaming, with a look through both the obvious examples (Flower, Braid, Okami, Ico, etc) and also a look at the art of design exhibited by designers like Valve. Also, a clear-eyed articulation of gaming as a new artistic super-medium, how it combines imagery, music, dramatic performance, storytelling, design, and architecture, and repurposing those elements through a lens of interactivity and connectivity.
  • How Games Teach - this one's a big one. I'm not as interested in talking about games that teach history or math, that's pretty well-covered territory. What I am interested in is talking about how the best designed commercial games use their "gameness" to teach players, how they build tutorials that stack and dovetail with game design to build a sense of progression and goal-achievement. My gut tells me that this is the most compelling angle, from an educational standpoint.
  • Connectivity, or, how online games are quickly changing the ways in which we interact, and specifically how game designers can harness that to help teachers and students teach and learn more effectively and in different ways.


Jay said...

While I can't point to any specific articles or links off-hand that discuss how games teach, there are a couple of games that I keep coming back to simply because I feel like they exercise my brain more vigorously than others: Civilization and Total War. Sure, they could teach you something about history, maybe, but those lessons are mere footnotes in the grander scheme of strategy, competition, compromise (that's a BIG one) and logic that make up the foundation of these TBS titles. The Civ maps are basically a glorified chess board, but the game delves so much deeper than brute, military strength. A successful campaign in either Civ or Total War involves economic, social and even cultural strategic wisdom. The military aspect is whole other beast you need to tame while maintaining order in other arenas. I'm not sure exactly what that says about games and education, but I can say that if we made conquering either game a prerequisite for presidential candidates, I think we'd all be the better for it.

Kirk Hamilton said...

Thanks, and total concurment. Civ is a great one for the classroom in a lot of ways. Like you say, it actually has so many valuable aspects that it's hard to pick which one to talk about! I'll totally put it in there, though, it's perfect.

Tim Mackie said...

I can't think of any specific articles, sites, or books offhand either, but maybe Brain Age would be something to at least touch upon. People are probably more likely to have at least a passing familiarity with it, and although it will probably never belong in a classroom, it's a more contemporary example of a game with at least a somewhat educational purpose. Maybe try to give a brief overview of the history of games in education, and particularly what hasn't worked. Educational games have certainly come a long way from The Oregon Trail, at any rate.

I really like the idea of talking about how games teach. I can't point to any particular resources offhand, but regarding your idea about tutorials integrated in gameplay, one thing that came to mind immediately was how I've noticed that over the last 10 years for sure, and probably a little longer than that, the tutorial has become an essential component of any game; conversely, game manuals have shrunk to almost nothing. I remember when my family got Final Fantasy VI (III) for SNES back when I was a young lad, and the manual for that game was at least 80 pages with tiny print; five years later, when I got FFX, that manual couldn't have been more than 40. The manual is obsolete, and I think that shows that games have become effective at being self-teaching.

Kirk Hamilton said...

That's a really interesting measuring stick, Tim - as games get better at teaching, they need shorter and shorter manuals.

I grabbed the video of the tutorial from Uncharted 2 as an example of extremely streamlined instruction, since it communicates just about every core function of the game in about fifteen pulse-pounding minutes. But I need more and different tutorials - can you (or anyone) think of any tutorials that have struck you as particularly well-designed? Or, conversely, any that have stuck out as poorly implemented?

I remember Brutal Legend's tutorials were sorely lacking. I had no idea about half the crap I could do in that game.

Jay said...

As far as tutorials go, have you checked out any sports games? I played the latest demos for both MLB2K and the Show, and they both kinda used different approaches to their pitching tutorial. MLB2K actually shows you, on-screen, how to complete their street fighter-esque pitching commands with button prompts and swirling analog stick gestures. For the Show, they just slap a digital version of an instruction manual on the screen and expect you to pick up the rest. Granted, the Show's pitching mechanic hasn't changed much since the last iteration (as far as I know), but MLB2k seems to have completely overhauled their game so it makes sense that they would have a more in-depth tutorial.

If anything, at least we see a sort of tutorial spectrum start to emerge from passive, manual style learning to fully integrated and interactive tutorials. How those compare as far as actually retaining knowledge or which one helps the player learn a skill set more efficiently I'm not sure, but one would assume that the more involved you are in the process, the more/better you learn. This is especially evident when it comes to baserunning in these baseball sims. I haven't played a single baserunning tutorial (do they even exist?) and that's always the aspect of ball games I hate the most because you're stuck having to figure it out through straight-up trial and error, and that's no fun when you hit into a triple play because 2 guys were standing on the same base. Why is baserunning always the hardest part? I'm sure you could write an entire thesis on that idea alone.

BunchberryFern said...

@Tim Mackie - that's an awesome idea.

I've just written something about games and learning - which has no real useful details but does have some hints:

Apparently, nuns in Milan are using GTAIV to teach religious education.

There's that guy with the annoying voice, Daniel Floyd who made a cool video about games and learning:

There's also some really good stuff on Gamasutra:

If you copy and paste this:
learning OR teaching site:http://www.gamasutra.com/
into The Google you'll find a shedload more.

I'm going to a two-day conference on from tomorrow so I'll Twoot you if I find any more good stuff.