But in acknowledging play you acknowledge mind, for whatever else play is, it is not matter. Even in the animal world it bursts the bounds of the physically existent. From the point of view of a world wholly determined by the operation of blind forces, play would be altogether superfluous. Play only becomes possible, thinkable and understandable when an influx of mind breaks down the absolute determinism of the cosmos.
–Johan Huizinga, Homo Ludens (1949)
[F]or human beings at least, play serves the function of reducing the pressures of impulse and incentive and making it possible thereby for intrinsic learning to begin, for if ever there is self-reward in process it is in the sphere of “doing things for merriment”….
–Jerome Bruner, Toward A Theory Of Instruction (1966)
James Gee’s What Video Games Have To Teach Us About Language And Literacy (2nd edition, Palgrave Macmillan, 2007) maps out thirty-six learning principles that the best video games demonstrate. In “Massively Multiplayer Online Gaming as a Constellation of Literacy Practices,” Constance Steinkuehler “argues that forms of video game play such as those entailed in MMOGs [massively multiplayer online games] are not replacing literacy activities but rather are literacy activities” (E-Learning and Digital Media 4:3, 2007). How might games of all kinds–serious and otherwise–increase the effectiveness of teaching and learning by 2020? This is a large question, but one worth asking, given that gaming of all kinds–particularly those mediated by networked computing devices–occupies a central role in the culture of the 21st century, one whose popularity has eclipsed books, music, and movies combined.
- Games such as Food Force http://www.un-ngls.org/orf/food-force.htm and Global Conflicts http://www.globalconflicts.eu/ can teach content AND global economic / historical / social awareness and ethical decision-making.
- Games such as The Sims and Spore furnish highly collaborative learning environments that can motivate student engagement and problem-solving activity. See this interview with their developer, Will Wright: “The Man Behind Spore Explores Gaming as Learning.”
- Dartmouth College’s Tiltfactor Laboratory “designs, creates, and studies games. From social activist games, where we examine empathy, to games for health where we study if players are learning about immunization, we focus on what we call ‘critical play’ that fosters human values. We also encourage the artistic and innovative place of games in culture. Given the multidisciplinary nature of our projects, the candidates will likely have interests that span several disciplines, such as psychology, gaming, and learning; or machine learning, social games, and HCI [human-computer interaction].
- “Little Big Planet,” a game developed for the Sony Playstation 3 platform, includes tools with which users can create and share their own additional game levels. Over three millions such levels have been uploaded to the Media Molecule servers since the game was released just three years ago (Media Molecule is the company that developed the game).
- One current game developer, Jane McGonigal, insists that “reality is broken,” and has pioneered massive multiplayer “alternate reality games … that challenge players to tackle real-world problems at a planetary-scale: hunger, poverty, climate change, or global peace, for example (see: EVOKE, World Without Oil, Superstruct).” Here is McGonigal’s TED Talk: