Video games are essentially complex systems that very young children can learn to navigate very quickly.
What if we could leverage the skill with which games teach players to play? Consider the ease with which you learn the physics in Angry Birds, how quickly you came to understand Mario’s Mushroom Kingdom. What if we could use similar strategies to help students to master traditional academic content? Many people are trying to do just that.
In Greg Toppo’s new book, The Game Believes In You: How Digital Play Can Make Our Kids Smarter, he explores game-based learning in detail.
Jordan: I really enjoyed reading your book. You do a fantastic job not only of surveying the game-based learning landscape, but also of explaining the ways of thinking that are driving it.
I was struck by an observation you made about learning game developers. You write, “I found that most of them had gotten into this discipline not because they love games, but because they love children and want something better for them. After a while, I stopped counting the number of times that someone leaned in and told me, ‘I am not a big gamer.’”
I’ve also discovered a related trend that I think of as the game developer late-life moral crisis. Entrepreneurs, designers and producers who were so instrumental in forming the commercial game industry—former execs from Atari and Activision and LucasArts and Electronic Arts—now seem to be using their talents to build social impact games and educational games. I’m thankful for their commitment. But culturally speaking, both the educators’ impulse to not identify themselves as gamers and the seasoned gamers’ impulse to consider their recent projects to be ‘career shifts’ seem indicative of a strange moral polarization in the way we think about video games.
What is it about video games? We don’t talk about ‘social impact’ movies; nor do we talk about ‘educational’ books. Why do we have these bipolar gaming categories? Despite the 1.5 billion people worldwide that play games, there still seems to be a stigma—or at least there’s a narrative of alienation or marginalization that goes along with gaming, a sort of adolescent outsider rebellion kind of thing. Games have an aura of sinful pleasure about them. Perhaps this is why they are often discussed as an unhealthy and addictive temptation from which we need to protect our kids. How do you think our collective neuroses around games and screens impacts the larger conversation around education technology?