Thursday, January 5, 2012

Video Games and Learning

This was written on January 5th, 2012.

To begin I would like to ask you a simple question, answer with a yes or no in you head before reading this article and keep that answer in mind. See if that answer changes by the end of my article and then please post a response letting me know if it changed or why it didn't change. Now, the question is this, "Do you believe that video games can viably used for education?"

First and foremost I'm going to start with my personal experience. I have been playing video games since I was about years old. Starting with the original Nintendo, then the Super Nintendo and on to the Nintendo 64. From there I moved on to gaming on the Computer and the Xbox, then to the Xbox 360 and further into the world of Computer gaming. I have played many genres of games, though my personal favorite genre is role playing games. Now that is out of the way, it is time to move on to the heart of my article, what each genre can individually offer in terms of teaching and expanding on the knowledge of the world and your interaction with it.

I'm going to start with the most casual genre of games first, that is sports games. They don't have a steep learning curve and you can just pick them up and have fun. These types of games can teach you about sports, obviously. They teach and enforce the values of teamwork and different sport tactics. Let's take the game Madden NFL 2010. This game offered up a great game based entirely on real life football. You didn't have to be a football player or even a big fan of football to enjoy it though, or at least I didn't. I don't play football and I don't really watch football either. What I mean though is that it was self contained, it provided all the stats, probabilities and scenarios in a football game. It offered you up different playbooks and all kinds of fun. You can learn a lot about sports from sport games because they are made by people are sport fanatics and they create this database of a game with all their sports knowledge. It is the most casual type of gaming because it is most easily related to real life activities that many people participate in or are fascinated by.

The next genre I'm going to cover is strategy games. These games are less casual but still pretty easy to get into, though overall they are the hardest of the bunch to exceed at. These are games like Civilization V, Age of Empires II and III, Starcraft II. They are games with a large variance of types of strategies: economic, military, diplomatic. All of these games require resource management, both gathering and wise spending. They teach you the basics of these by playing through the "story mode" version of the games. You start with a small batch of resources and only a few units. By the end of the story you are running various outposts, using different units in a variety of ways and doing your best to use your resources wisely. The biggest thing that these games teach isn't actually strategy, but resource management. They teach you how to gather materials and how to use them in the most effective way you can to produce the results that you are looking for. Whether that be a diplomatic victory in Civilization V or a military uprising in Starcraft II. Taking those games online provides even more experience and causes you to go more in depth into resource management and production speed because you're being pitted against or allying with other players who have learned the same things from the game that you have and finding ways to apply those strategies to overtake or help you.

The next genre I am going to cover is massive multiplayer online games. By the way, if someone would explain to me why the acronym is MMOs (Massive Multiplayer Onlines?) and not MMOGs (Massive Multipler Online Games) I would much appreciate it. Onward and forward, these types of games can teach you the most about the world and how to interact in it, even though for the most part they are often the farthest from reality. Let us take a look at World of Warcraft, one of the most common in the genre. World of Warcraft offers a vast world with open areas where you can explore, quest, kill various monsters with your friends, craft all kinds of items and then sell them on a marketplace as expansive and deep as can be allowed by a game that is not real life. The biggest thing this game offers is learning how to operate inside of and flourish on a world scale marketplace. It teaches you things like buying low and selling high, it teaches you how to read the market for what is selling well and what isn't selling well. The marketplace in World of Warcraft is a truly representative human created marketplace. The first thing I learned on the marketplace in my time playing was that the resources to build materials sold the best and were the easiest to acquire. The next thing I learned was that if you want to sell well you undercut the sale price of what everyone else was listing their version of your product for. Then I learned that you could still sell your product just as easily if instead of undercutting everyone, you priced your product between the cheapest and the second cheapest. The reason for that was that once the cheapest has all been sold, yours becomes the next cheapest. It takes a small amount of time more for your product to sell, but that little bit of extra time also ended with a larger reward. The final thing I learned was that no matter how much effort someone puts into gathering, it is just as hard to read the market buy what is worthwhile and sell it for a small profit margin. Of course World of Warcraft can also teach you what is socially acceptable and what isn't. For instance, nobody likes beggars in WoW and most people will insult you diligently for being a beggar. The only person to blame for your lack of wealth is yourself. That's a hard learned lesson in real life and in video games. Still I feel like even though it is quickly learned in video games, that knowledge becomes hard for a lot of people to interpret into real life, but it's there.

Finally I'm going to come to my favorite genre of role playing games. This genre of games has lots of little bits and pieces of knowledge to offer that are easily applicable to real life without any effort whatsoever. Probably the most humorous of which is that a woman's wrath is not something you want to mess with, sure you can learn this in real life just as easily, usually though in real life incurring a woman's wrath is more subtle and sometimes you don't immediately realize that you've pissed off a woman in real life. Role playing games teach you what kind of things piss women off and what kind of things don't piss women off, though not necessarily how to charm their pants off. I'm pretty sure that's just genetic or a god given talent. Anyhow, lots of role playing games offer puzzles, things that cause you to think outside the box, break the barriers of your mind and look really hard at some problem to solve it. This is becoming less true as time goes on because most people are casual gamers and most casual gamers don't want to spend ten minutes figuring out a problem. So game developers are implementing less and less problem solving to bring in more casual gamers, but it's still there. It is my hope that after more people start gaming and realizing that there are lots of interesting things various games have to offer, more of those puzzles will start to come back and in more difficult ways. Portal is a great example of a game with purely puzzles, by the way. Role playing games also offer moral dilemmas and show you what happens when you apply various morals, the impact that has on the people around you and the world around you. One of the best examples of this is Fable III a game developed with that sole purpose in mind when Lionhead created it. You are a king and you make decisions that affect the kingdom, do you abide by the promises you make as you make your way to your throne or do you go back on them? Do you turn this house into a home for the poor or do you allow it to become a brothel? You have all these choices that affect the world around you and the way that people view you, then you get to see those affects plain as day. Games like that easily teach right and wrong and provide a moral compass for those who aren't avidly religious, and even some of those that are.

All in all, video games have so much to offer in the sphere of learning and I've barely brushed the surface. I've covered four genres of gaming that easily the most enjoyed genres, aside from shooting games, in the business.

Here is a list of genres and short list of what they offer in terms of learning:
Role Playing Games - Morals, Conversation Skills, Puzzle Solving
Massive Multiplayer Games - Marketplace Assessment, Social Interaction, Social Standards, Supply and Demand
Strategy Games - Resource Gathering and Management
Sports Games - Sports Applicable Knowledge
Puzzle Games - Puzzle Solving
Shooter Games - Hand Eye Coordination, Tactics, Mechanical Skills, Reflex
Party Games - Trivia, Word Association
Serious Games - Math, Writing, Reading, Science, Social Change, Military, Government, Economic

All in all, there are lot of things offered from video games for the generation of visual learning. I remember back in the days of "Where in the World is Carmen San Diego?" and "Oregon Trail" when adults didn't have a huge problem with kids playing video games. I remember a ton of games that we played for educational purpose in the computer lab when I was attending elementary school, though for the life of me I cannot remember their names. Most of those were "Serious" games, even when the way they used to portray that serious information wasn't serious in the slightest.

Please give me feedback on this article and talk about your own experiences with video games and whether or not you view them to be viably used for education.

Final Note: What I have said here in this article is nowhere near a complete representation of vast world of video games or what they have to offer. It is only a nugget and certainly it may offer as much bad as it does good. Though that is always subject to opinion.