The New York Times ran a pretty good article last week about so-called "serious games" - Peacemaker (try to solve the Middle East crisis), Darfur is Dying (plight of villagers in Sudan), and others. I think they make two important points:
- Games are systems, and systems reflect ideologies; and
- Even serious games must remain intellectually engaging, and in that broadest sense, fun.
The game's creators, Persuasive Games, have also developed a game that explores the inconveniences of airport security, a game to help Cold Stone Creamery trainees learn to control their portion sizes (commissioned by the company) and an arcade-style game to help middle-grade students learn the periodic table.
It's even more exciting to hear about teachers using complex but not explicitly "educational" games in an instructional context, especially open-ended games. Educators have already descended on the virtual world Second Life, which now contains libraries and education centers and even sells private, off-the-map land which can be used for "sheltered" experiences within the game. High-school teacher Dave McDivitt has used Civilization in history classes before, and has been floating ideas this summer about using The Sims for his sociology class; he now has an implementation plan, and I couldn't be more excited about this use of gaming technology: it prompts collaboration, helps students apply direct instruction as well as helping to introduce topics important to students, orients students towards shared goals, and provides an "experimental" and technological dimension that can help bring a highly relevant topic to life. I'm looking forward to hearing about his experiences as the semester progresses.