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Think:games blog

I’ve been regularly posting for Think:games over the last year, and by now can look back at a considerable amount of in-depth articles as well as blog posts. Games and education remains a rare combination of subjects, and I am still strongly convinced it is rewarding to research it more.

However, I now find myself in a position where I have to, for the moment, put a break on this project. Even though I have a degree in philosophy education, I have not been able to find work in education in the past almost two years. Applying for a different kind of work has paid off, however, and I will now start working in a new position with my other main interest, music, as a copyright officer. This job will have me relocate to another country, and altogether this will leave no place for me to actively continue the Think:games project.

This means that Think:games will be on an indefinite hiatus, until I or someone else is in a position to pick it up again. Please read here an invitation to contact me if you would like to correspond over the subject of games in education, if you want to start a new project or maybe even continue my work. The subject continues to interest me, and I think games will at some point in the future will be deeply integrated in education: not if, but when.

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It’s a small anniversary for Think:games, blog post #10! As always, more content is on the way, but I thought I’d use this blog post to quickly discuss how the Think:games project is doing, and sketch some plans and goals for the future.

As for my readers and followers, I can’t complain. My most read posts were the in-depth articles on The Stanley Parable and Deus Ex: Human Revolution, then there were the other articles (on MOBA’s and  Fallout 4), and interestingly enough, my regular blog posts were read least of all. I decided on my blog schedule of around two posts a month because of the expectation that this would engage readers, but it turns out having less, more in-depth articles works better! Seeing these statistics, I will focus less on the blog and more on the in-depth articles in 2017.

Thanks to my collaboration with IndieWatch, I am getting more exposure both on my blog and on Twitter, and I am very happy with that. The key for me in 2017, however, will be not in particular to have a large following, but to connect with key actors in this relatively new field of games for education. Games4ed, as you’ll find it on Twitter, is very promising and I can’t wait to collaborate with anyone who wants to develop this (awesome but still too small) scene! Whether this involves developing educational materials, assisting developers, or teaching it myself, I’ll be fully dedicated to work towards more games in education!

Kicking off this blog’s collaboration with the excellent site IndieWatch, in this blog post I look at games in education from a different angle than I usually do: the developer’s!

Educational games have long been developed and funded by educators, publishers of educational methods (or: books), and found their way to players the same way the books did: directly from the publisher to the school. But the video game landscape has changed dramatically. Over the years, “regular” video games (or: games meant to be fun, not necessarily to be educational) have been taken much more seriously, all of (at least pc) gaming’s distribution mechanism has moved to the internet, and of course the indie game scene has developed, showing that it does not take funding or publishing by a major company to make an impact.

Maybe you’re in the process of developing a video game, and want to know what you can do with educational gaming. Maybe you just want to know what is currently going on in this particular area of the gaming industry. Or maybe you’re still unconvinced that games in education will ever become a thing. Below, I will answer three questions that game developers might have regarding games in education. Have any other questions? Please let me know in the comments!

Are there specific requirements for a game to be educational?

No. Although education is often rigid and focused on very specific knowledge and skills, learning is a broad term, and for any specific piece of knowledge or skill that can be learned, different learning goals and methods will apply. Whether teachers will or will not use a game for teaching depends on whether it helps students reach their educational goals. Gone Home wasn’t designed as such, but turned out to be great to teach students literary techniques. Whereas the first SimCity was designed with theories of urban planning and system dynamics in mind, but the thing most people remember that game for was the destruction of cities by huge monsters, which the game happened to feature.

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People may not realize your game’s educational potential if you don’t tell them. Image: SimCity

Although it is true that some features make games more fit for educational use than others, but the bottom line is that you do not need to design it as such for a game to be educational.

Which features make games fit for educational use?

So which features do make it more likely that a teacher will pick up your game and decide to use it in class?

First off, there’s the practical side of things. You’ll help out a lot if your game has plenty of loadable checkpoints, save slots, and the ability to easily skip through cutscenes and “busywork”.

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Customizability allows teachers to tailor game scenarios to learning goals. Image: Crusader Kings II

In case of simulators or strategy games, the more customization options, the better. This way, teachers can much better control the parts of the game that they want to use in class.

Secondly, the educational potential of your game might be discovered by a teacher who also happens to be a gaming enthousiast, such as in that particular case with Gone Home. But generally this won’t be the case. It’ll help greatly if you explicitly promote the educational potential of your game. This doesn’t mean that you have to sell your game as educational. Take the example of Minecraft, which is hugely popular with gaming audiences, but has a separate educational version, which is promoted to teachers and schools via completely different avenues than the regular version. In other words: students (through teachers) become a new target audience, which you’ll have to reach via different ways than your usual target audience.

And thirdly, think about developing educational material alongside your game. This could be ideas for projects, exercises, tests; material teachers can use with your game right away. Preparing new lesson plans from scratch can take a lot of time for teachers. Save them this time by developing a method with teachers for teachers. And, like Minecraft, make sure teachers can share their own lesson plans in one location.

How big is it? Or: on what scale are games currently being used in education and how will this develop in the future?

It’s important to make a distinction between

educational games, games designed for the purpose of learning

games in education (games4ed), non-educational games used for learning.

The first group is the oldest. Educational games such as these or these have been around for years or even decades, and are to gaming what Sesame Street is to television. This industry will be around for probably ever, but it’s not likely to grow a lot because it focuses on very specific audiences (usually children of a specific age), and the games often don’t have mechanics that actually make them fun to the extent that kids will keep playing them at later ages.

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Minecraft: Education Edition, the biggest player in the field (for now)

Games in education, the main subject of this blog, is a growing but smaller industry at the moment. Currently, the only big player in this field is Minecraft. Sadly, there is little research on the trends of this branch, but many schools are currently adapting forms of digital learning (iPads, chromebooks, digiboards, coding lessons) that will eventually pave the way for a large scale application of games to learning. When the infrastructure is there, it’s to be seen which games will take the stage alongside Minecraft. However, it’s likely they have the features discussed above, and will be chosen for their ability go engage students more than regular learning methods do. In other words: make sure your game is fun first, and only then look at how you might be able to tailor it to learning purposes.

 

 

If you’re reading this blog, there’s a good chance you want to or are already using games in education. But in a vast majority of schools, playing games as a regular part of class is little more than a fantasy. If you’re lucky, you can experiment with it in your own classes or even get support from the school, but still many schools ignore or even reject the idea that games can have a meaningful contribution to learning. This is why I dedicate this blog post to some of the reasons games may not be picked up by a school, and provide some counter arguments to them.

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There are other things going on in the world, and with this Think:games blog I just wanted to give them some perspective. Politics is not a game, and it would be unwise to pretend that it is, but in both you can win or you can lose. I started this blog to shed light on what games can teach, and here I want to talk about what games can teach about learning from your losses.

tim-kaine

Tim Kaine knows a thing or two about losses.

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Although much has been said about recently released No Man’s Sky already, I can’t really skip it on this blog because there is simply so much to be said about it.

Let’s start with its recent release, that failed the high expectations of many and mostly caused disappointment. Developer Hello Games had promised players an infite universe to explore, with infinite amounts of different species, space-ships and planets. And that is what it gave them. Although No Man’s Sky‘s trailers gave some false impressions of what the eventual game would look like (as argued for strongly in this article), the game kept to its promise: it generates new content procedurally, so that the chances of the generated subject matter being the same in two different playthroughs are next to zero. This makes for lots of unique objects, but the objections many players raise is that when all of them still look like each other, they’re not unique at all. Grains of sand in the Sahara may be unique, but to humans it’s still just a desert.

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