Play Your Video Games! This Exclamation May Become More Common as Researchers from video game studies, education, and many other disciplines have increasingly considered how this often-derided medium may in fact be amongst the most valuable of “useful” media. The deep interactive “immersion” that leads some to question the negative effects of video games may also be the key to unlocking new forms of creative learning and expression. Video games in educational and institutional settings promise a new venue not only for delivering information but also for changing the way people interact with information. By activating the link between play, learning, creativity, and a whole host of valuable skills, video games have been perceived as an exciting new frontier for solving problems using media. For this dossier, we asked several noted video game scholars and researcher/practitioners about what they felt had been successful employments of video games as useful media to date and where they felt such employment might go in the future.
The answers we received reflected the vibrancy and variability of this growing field. Whether practically or theoretically approached, video games have proven to be much more than outlets for meaningless “fun.” Some contributors pointed us to educational problems that could be uniquely solved by gaming, while others challenged us to question the entire nature of “useful” media and to embrace wasteful play. Particularly valuably, our contributors pushed beyond the model of media as distributor of content to consider how this form of media may indeed be most useful in its role as facilitator of new and intriguing social dynamics. Considering video games’ impact less in terms of what is learned and instead in how the nature of learning changes, our contributors considered how video games as useful media affected not only how learners interacted with media but also the ways in which they interacted with one another. This, they suggested, may ultimately be one of the most useful functions of video games.
We hope that our readers enjoy these pieces and are challenged to think about the potential of video games in new ways. Thank you to all of our contributors for their thoughtful participation.
We are at a crossroads in the current near-obsession with video games as a solution to our educational, social, and economic problems. At the extreme, there are people advocating that we “gamify” just about everything—from airport screening to jogging to online shopping—which [End Page 72] is at best a way to make boring or unpleasant but necessary tasks a bit less onerous and at worst a way to give a superficial level of meaning to actions that are not always in people’s best interests. I am very wary of overblown claims about the potential value of gaming, but at the same time I believe we need to think more expansively about how gaming might be of use in light of the significant problems we face as a society and culture.
First, we need to be clear about what we mean by a game. Jim Gee has made a useful distinction between a game as a form of digital media and the big G “Game” that is comprised of a larger system, or what I will call a game-centered learning ecology, that is, the game plus the social interactions that take place around the game, the varied practices that people take up in relation to the game (creating game play guides, modifications to the game, debating strategy, and so forth), and the affinity spaces that people create to share their knowledge and organize their interactions and practices around the game. From what I have observed, formally and informally, much of a game’s impact occurs in these spaces and practices around the game, and this is true whether the game is designed for entertainment or for more “serious” purposes. Let us use Foldit (http://fold.it/portal/info/about) as an example.
Foldit was designed by researchers at the University of Washington to recruit players’ problem-solving abilities toward the goal of identifying optimal protein structures. As a...