By learning a subject like science in a way which encourages problem-solving, lateral thinking and critical analysis, the consequence would be a population confident in their knowledge, and the ability to apply it in everyday life.
“When you ‘play the game’ of biology, you learn and use lots of facts,” says Gee. “But not just in and for themselves, or for a test, but to accomplish your goals in biology and to ‘win’ the game.”
The results of a 2001 U.K. Home Office report supports Gee’s contention; those who play computer and video games regularly are more likely to be academically successful, to go to University and to have better employment prospects. In particular, a 1998 study argued that children who were taught reading and comprehension tasks via interactive entertainment improved their abilities more rapidly than a cohort engaged in tutorial-based activities.
A report released last year by the University of London’s Institute for Education (IoE) similarly encourages the use of interactive entertainment in schools. It claims that computer games are useful in the development of critical thought, and could be used as a text, in a similar way as traditional literature, to examine character development and narrative structure.
The results also suggest that game play promotes social development, during both in class exercises and on the playground.
However, David Buckingham, one of the authors of the report, suggests caution when promoting educational interactive entertainment.
Games literacy among teachers is low, and introducing a new product into this sphere requires extensive planning groundwork. Furthermore, importing games into the classroom has implications for assumptions about the current models of teaching.
“A great deal of argument for gaming in the classroom is that it’s all about fun learning,” Buckingham explained at a recent seminar. “This depends upon the conception of learning as hard work and play as easy. The evidence that this kind of learning will motivate all students is questionable.”
Indeed, factors like gender and previous technology experience confound issues.
Software that has been developed for all potential audiences has been mediocre at best, as “edutainment” in which play is the reward for attaining an easily surmountable learning objective. In cases such as these, learning is detached from enjoyment, and students quickly learn how to cheat the system.
Therein lays the conflict between commercial titles and games for the classroom. Over-the-counter games are designed for entertainment, and learning that occurs within them is an unexpected, albeit happy result.
Furthermore, public backlash against over-18 products like Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas could conflict with well-meaning teachers who use suitable commercial titles like Age of Empires or Myst to encourage learning.
There have been some steps to solve the problems with educational titles. Successful bespoke applications have been introduced in British schools, such as the NESTA Futurelab-funded Savannah, in which students use Global Positioning Systems (GPS) technologies to learn about the ecological and natural challenges facing animal life in a virtual environment. Well-received by both teachers and users, products such as these are paving the way for future gaming education.
“The learning principles built into good games could be used tomorrow to improve the teaching of things like science, social studies, and mathematics in schools,” explains Gee.
In future, along with a No. 2 pencil, a student’s toolkit may include a PlayStation control pad.