The best modern video and online games do more than entertain. They also teach–and give players a say in how they learn. MIT is a pioneer in this participatory, games-to-educate approach, with a growing number of faculty and alumni leading the field. And students interested in this kind of gaming can tap MIT’s academic strengths, such as artificial intelligence, as well as industry savvy right on campus.
Playing to Learn
MIT is bolstering the educational value of games. The Education Arcade, a joint initiative between Comparative Media Studies (CMS) and the MIT Teacher Education Program is demonstrating the potential of video games that are fun to play and involve academic skills. Program faculty and students conduct research, bring the results to public attention, and produce lots of new games, such as Gung-ho! A Google Maps Adventure, a futuristic race that helps students learn U.S. geography.
CMS also offers courses such as The Art, Science, and Business of Videogames, taught by industry leader and Bethesda Softworks founder Christopher S. Weaver, SM ‘85. Weaver is renowned for creating John Madden Football and for coining Weaver’s Law of successful games: “The quality of entertainment is inversely proportional to the perception of time engaged in it.” That also holds true for serious games that can be used in education, medicine, and even combat training. “The key is the level of interaction a player can achieve with a particular game,” says Weaver.
CMS codirector Henry Jenkins III, the intellectual leader of this new-media renaissance, is a passionate advocate for the participatory culture that encourages players to be active learners and creators. “Game culture creates strong incentives for people to become active participants in the community, to create something, and to give something back,” he says.
Faculty and students are expanding our understanding of games in the Singapore-MIT GAMBIT Games Lab, established in 2006 with funding from the Singapore Media Development Authority. GAMBIT, which stands for “gamers, aesthetics, mechanics, business, innovation, and technology,” aims to accelerate digital-game research, develop a world-class academic program, and establish Singapore in the industry. Executive director Philip Tan ‘01, SM ‘03, is working with Jenkins and CMS codirector William Uricchio to help seed collaborations between MIT and three Singaporean universities.
Tan says GAMBIT is targeting a high-stakes industry growing because of a rise in online distribution and broadband connections, better word-of-mouth marketing, expanded audiences, and software advances. Emerging innovations in animation software, for example, could slash production costs.
“Singapore typically develops games with small groups of designers, the way the U.S. used to do,” he says. “Now in the U.S., large teams develop games over one or two years at a cost of as much as $40 million. If we can streamline the technology of how games are made, that will open up opportunities for small developers worldwide.”