Sep 24, 2012

Games have been around for millennia and, all, debatably, have a degree of educational merit whether it be strategy, maths or more fundamental understanding of reality, life and culture. But this is not enough. Can games be used to teach deep and specific concepts? Can games make dry subjects enjoyable? Can games give often dislocated concepts a context? Can games focus students and keep them on task in this sound-bite, quick-fix, instant-fame culture they are growing up in?

Gaming Student

There are several attributes of gaming that make it an attractive strategy for education. Games, especially of the electronic variety, enjoy a high ranking in a wide range of people’s choice of leisure time. If more learning could be smuggled into that time (and probably be more effective than sleep-tapes) that alone would extend learning outside of school.

You just have to look at people’s faces to know how engaged they are when playing games. You can guess at the quality of that engagement by the complex manoeuvres, fiendish puzzles and RSI achieved by the gamer. Clever folks like scientists and programmers have co-opted that dopamine rush and turned tedious tasks into successful games such as protein folding and language translation.

Adding historical simulations and educational elements such a development of social policy and urbanisation to the game Civilization allows gamers to play nature, play king or play God and lends itself to many educational topics. But what the Lord giveth, the Lord taketh away, since although games demand attention and promote flow, game dynamics and objectives can prevent the learner from reaching any educational depth. Gamers are wont to skip over lengthy cut-scenes and are likely to do the same with any less than exciting content. Perhaps all we can hope to achieve is education by stealth or by loading screen.

But the holy grail of serious games is where the learning objectives and concepts are mapped to core game dynamics and game elements which are contextualised in a world that motivates, explains and provides mental models that have social, collaborative and award based features. However, games companies don’t usually have an education department.


Digital games have been around for 40 years, so why do all of the major gaming consoles (XBOX, PS, Wii) have close to zero educational content? And, when educational gaming sites like Wonderville, Pora Ora and Immune Attack are targeted at under-12s, why are the majority of console games 15 or 18 rated? There is clearly a mismatch between the game industry and the education industry. Perhaps this is because game based learning strategies run out of steam by the time they get to secondary school and because teenagers don’t want to mix their gaming and their learning. Hard-core gaming just isn’t compatible with hard-core education – at least, not version 1.0 (beta).

While there are very few examples of mainstream educational game development especially for secondary and higher education, there is a growing and improving provision of education oriented casual games based on web based flash or mobile platforms for primary education. Many of these have been categorised by the Games and Learning Alliance (GALA), a network of excellence In Serious Games co-funded for four years by the European in FP7 – IST ICT, Technology Enhanced Learning which stems from the acknowledgement of the potential of Serious Games (SGs) for supporting education and training.

ORT France, as partner of the GALA consortium, is contributing to the building of knowledge, tools, practices, communication channels and activities of the GALA Project. ORT works mostly in the Serious Games application domains like Education, Health and Fitness, Cultural Heritage, Business and Management and to the Special Interest Group activities. ORT is contributing to the building of the best practises in serious games.

World ORT is planning a seminar on this topic to be held towards the end of January 2013 (timed to coincide with the BETT Show). It is a huge topic with a huge potential for education and will be highly interesting for the participants.

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