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Video games and education, a longstanding idea (II)



Educational Video Games engage learners.

In the first part of our blog post, we finished our brief history of educational video games by explaining the specific ways video games engage learners. The fantasy element of a game is not only attractive but also immediately rewarding. Interaction and identification are two main factors that require memory retention and involvement. The Institute of Play, for example, conducts learning research and classes to explore the possibilities of a learning model based on these principles.

Not only have video games become a primordial social tool to make friends, but what a child experiments during the process of playing helps them to regulate feelings, challenge themselves, express their identities in a virtual and fun world, as Dr. Cheryl K. Olson explains in this paper. The Pew Internet research paper shows that gaming experiences can have a social relevance as well as an educational value. Games for Change facilitates the creation and distribution of games with social impact; companies like the Games Learning Society are dedicated to innovative gaming experiences that have the potential to foster the communication of ideas.

We asked David Miller, Director of Learning at Kuato Studios, to explain this transformation of educative methods that affects every step of learning, from kindergarten to high school.


David Miller at Innotech Summit - Youtube

Is there really a need to use videogames as an educative medium? Is it a question of talking the language of the learner?

Videogames certainly have a place in the classroom. There seems to be a view that videogames of themselves provide the stimulation and engagement, but really the best learning games will be ones where a teacher can manage and choreograph a great conversation around what is happening in the game. I’m not saying that without this learning won’t happen, but the richest learning experience is a social interaction. In terms of talking the language of the learner, yes, young people are familiar with video games, and the language of video games, but learning is so much more than leveling-up and receiving badges and rewards with each level. In some ways, gamification panders to an old-fashioned learning model – less about curiosity and exploration and more about assessment and achievement.


How would you define the philosophy of Kuato Studios?

In a sense, games are already learning environments teaching the player mechanics, systems, and skills. For example, playing Skyrim will make a player a health potions expert. If a game can teach about fictional botany in a way that makes the player both interested and invested, why can’t a game help others learn about real world skills?  The current wave of educational games doesn’t follow modern education guidelines or 21st century skills, which place much more stock in creativity and innovation, critical thinking and problem solving, communication and collaboration. For so many “educational” games, it is all about curricular content and assessment rather than skills and creativity. We are also very careful about how we use the terms teaching and learning. We are more interested in creating games in which young people learn, than games that teach. Teachers still do the best job of teaching, whereas a game can enhance a child’s ability to grasp a concept or develop new skills. Learning is about exploration, learning the rules (and breaking them), and discovery.


Dino Tales


One of the unique aspects of Kuato is that we want to make games that are about learning but can also compete with other hard core gaming titles. Graphics and sound are key to creating an immersive learning environment. The learner has in a sense to suspend their disbelief – they have to believe this is a cool game as well as an interesting learning environment. The environment has to engage them emotionally, aesthetically AND intellectually. We are proving we can create such environments with two games so far: Hakitzu which introduces kids as young as eight to the rudiments of JavaScript, and Dino Tales which is all about literacy and storytelling. Hakitzu takes place in a vibrant world of robots and atmospheric arenas; Dino Tales takes place in a Jurassic wonderland rich in storytelling possibilities. 


Is it necessary to make sure that the educative outcome of the game is more relevant for the learner than the playful aspect?

The best learning game should be an equal marriage of game design and learning design; game mechanic and learning mechanic. Games are already an interesting and fun environment, which is not to say that the learning has to be fun. There can be problems which require hard thinking, but the satisfaction of solving a problem within a game, or creating a solution, can give immense satisfaction to a player / learner. Games can also allow players to fail and try again where failing doesn’t seem to carry the same weight as it might in a classroom. The presence of avatars also allows players the fun of ‘being’ someone else, to shape their own learning from the point of view of an external character.