Why the big interest in video games at the moment? Why are mentions of games popping up in BRW, government reports and corporate press reports? Well Jim Gee probably sums that up best for us when he says that games are able to get people to sustain engagement in activities that are long, hard and complex and they even pay for the privilege. That engagement is not all grinding (the repetitive tasks completed to escape lower levels of the game). Video games engage players in cognitive activity; strategizing, developing and testing theories, innovating and forming creative solutions. And in today’s massively multiplayer online games they are not doing this alone. They are members of affiliations and clans looking for ways to collaboratively compete to raise the individual and the clan status and identity. As the Game Life blog pointed out when gamers get into that state of "flow" they are not necessarily engaged in "fun".
Yesterday I raised the issue that not all virtual spaces are games and Gee’s list of game features succinctly defines what we should see in a game…
1. Empathy for a complex system
2. Simulations of experience and preparations for action
3. Distributed intelligence via the creation of smart tools
4. Cross-functional teamwork
5. Situated meaning
6. Open-endedness: melding the personal and the social
He further suggests that the qualities of good games are that they are motivational, lower the cost of failure, encourage competition and collaboration and the development of strong identities as players move through well-sequence problems facing a ‘pleasant level of frustration’. I can recommend pouring a cup of coffee and watching Jim Gee’s full presentation given here in Australia last year (17th Aug, 2006 1hr 22 min) Games Are Good For Learning...But Not Just Because They Are Games
Until this presentation I had thought Gee was advocating for all learning to become a game. But he is not. What he is challenging us to do is to reflect on how we can get people to develop their own resourcefulness and creativity rather than continue to train people in the basic skill sets needed to do jobs likely to go to more competitive offshore countries. His set of game features should challenge us to consider how our workplaces and learning environments can better develop individual initiative, collaboration and commitment.
The attraction of games for learning can be seen in the advent of the term “serious games”.
Two sites worth exploring are:
• Serious Games Initiative
• Department of Defence Game Developers Community
The DOD game Saving Sergeant Pabletti asks players to engage in creative problem solving in a highly situated context. It is a game dealing with a life and death repercussions. And if you thought games were all violent then consider Peacemaker, Food Force or French Budget.
There is criticism of the serious games movement’s worth and predictions that it has to show some gains quickly or it will die in the bud. I hear in this criticism the same things I hear about communities of practice. The need to show tangible and immediate return on investment and a government or corporate sponsorship that is following a trend rather than being heartily committed to the concept and a new way of doing things. Tomorrow as promised I would like go back to the gals and guys who are researching the knowledge, skills and attitudes developed in games and examine the potential relevance and returns of these to organisations (and offer some examples).