Chapter 10:  Using Video Games and Simulations to Learn

 In this chapter we explore one of the important developments in education in the past decade--anincreased use of games and simulations to foster learning.  There are a large number of games apps designed for educational purposes that certainly have their use in the classroom and there are games not intended directly for education that present designs that have compelling implications for engaging and motivating students.  Some things can be learned more effectively in a gaming format or environment.  It is a fact that with more youth involved in gaming and acquiring skills and strategies needed to play games, that teachers are dealing with new learners with new ways of allocating attention, using perceptual and fine motor skills and reasoning than in previous generations not so engaged in games.      

One third of adolescent gamers play games daily and one fifth play games three to five days a week (Lenhart et al., 2008).  A recent survey of game-playing in 1,200 American households found that 72% of households play video games; 45% of parents report playing online/video games with their children at least weekly, and 68% of parents believe that playing games contributes positively to learning (Ipsos MediaCT, 2011).  A primary aspect of “gaming literacy” (Appleby & Beavis, 2011) involving uses of “serious games” is the development of collaborative problem-solving, reflection, and critical evaluation as a form of “transformational play” (Barab, Gresalfi, & Ingram-Goble, 2010) than can transfer to lived-world contexts (Bogost, 2011).  

The fact that games situate students in simulations of concrete situations requiring them to address specific problems or issues helps develop problem-solving, perspective-taking, identity-construction, collaboration, and knowledge-construction practices (Gee, 2005; McGonigal, 2011).   For example, in playing games, students are learning to engage in collective action to address and solve problems.  One example of a game that engages students in collaboratively achieving a shared goal is the game Evoke in which players were given a new issue for each week, issues such as food shortages, massive power outages in cities, water security, disaster relief, poverty, pandemic, education, and human rights (McGonigal, 2011).       

It is also the case that games can be designed to persuade players to acquire new insights into particular issues.  For example, in playing the Evoke game players learn to recognize the significance of issues of food or water shortages, what Ian Bogost (2007) in his book, Persuasive Games, describes as “procedural rhetoric” that engage players through direct experience of issues through a simulation of those issues in virtual social worlds that may ultimately be more convincing that simply being persuaded through direct argumentative appeals.