WISE Play – An Invitation to the World of Game-based Learning

Emerging Technologies and Edtech June 19, 2014

What is the promise offered by games and their play to the field of education? What possibilities exist for the use of games in the context of teaching and learning? Play: an invitation to the world of game-based learning shines a light on these two questions, by highlighting some of the most interesting examples of game-based applications from around the world.

The premise of the WISE Play program is that the potential of games goes far beyond pure entertainment. Given the fact that games engage players in situations that require them to solve hard problems, collaborate with others to complete sometimes-complicated tasks, think creatively, and fail often in pursuit of a compelling goal, games can be good for learning, too. There is an increasing body of data supporting this premise, both from researchers looking at the impact of games on academic outcomes like reading, math, science, and literacy, to industry organizations doing studies to understand the impact of games more broadly. Recent data from the Entertainment Software Association (ESA, 2013) and the EU (Newzoo Report 2012), for example, show growth in the amount of time parents spend playing games together with their children, and that almost all kids (91%) play games in one form or another. 

Given that playing games is an increasingly prevalent activity in the lives of kids, what do we know about the impact of this play on learning? A recent report on kids and gaming by MindCET (2013) shared the results of interviews with 1019 Arabic and Hebrew speaking youth, ages 6-18 about what they thought they were learning when they played videogames. Answers included content knowledge like math, science, history, and language; specific technical skills like how to build something, how to save money, how to produce coal or make ice cream; computer skills like how to type quickly, how to search the internet, and how to ask for help; and emotional or social skills, like winning and losing with respect, how help others, and how to persist when things get difficult. The promise of games, then, might be that they offer engaging contexts for kids and adults alike to build skills, learn content, and socialize with others. When we think about the general goals of education these outcomes feel nicely aligned.

It is fair to say that the jury is still out on whether or not games might ever be fully embraced within educational circles—we just don’t know enough yet about how best to maximize their potential in the service of institutionalized places of learning, like schools. But we do have some key indicators that show the landscape of games and learning is rapidly changing. Over the past few years commercial and independent developers from around the globe have become involved in both researching the effects of games on learning, as well as developing games for learning. Globally we have seen an explosive growth in the number of games created for younger children, as well as games developed for the commercial market that are being taken up for use within classrooms around the world. Funding for game-based learning applications is on the rise, from foundation, government, and industry sources. And there are new players joining the game—from game developers trained in creating products for the entertainment sector who are now turning their eyes toward education, to scientists keen to find ways to incorporate their love of rigorous problem-solving and big data into engaging tools for teaching and learning.

The PLAY list was prepared in collaboration with experts from six continents with a goal of providing a snapshot of the genres, content areas, technology platforms, and audiences currently being addressed by game-based applications. An infographic offers a visual overview of the list as a new kind of world territory. One defined by regions and topographical features such as math, science, history, and creativity and activated by varying styles of game play, from sandbox or puzzle style games, to those pairing action, adventure and role-playing. 

One important caveat: while the list is international in its representation, it is not equally balanced. There are far fewer entries from Africa, the Middle East, and Latin America than we would have liked, an outcome that is indicative of the challenges of global, multilingual research, rather than of quantity or quality. There are surely wonderful games that didn’t make the list. The hope would be that as more and more attention is brought to the topic of game-based learning globally, more and more resources showcasing these games will become available. PLAY is one small step in that direction, and one we hope illuminates the energy, enthusiasm, and excellence that is possible when the worlds of games and learning collide.

Thanks to the following individuals for contributing recommendations to the curated list of games: Annabel Astbury, Donelle Batty, Alex Bethke, Sean Boucard, Bill Clawson, Yvonne Dávalos, Sara de Freitas, Abby Friesen, Gonzalo Frasca, Alan Gershenfeld, Robert Gehorsam, Peter Hall, Matthew Haselton, Frederik Hermund, Jörg Hofstätter, Kyle Li, Konstantin Mitgutsch, Gordon Moyes , Ivan Ng, Daniel Norton, Gillian Pennington, Duane Rajkumar, Junjie Shang, Bronwyn Stuckey, Catherine Styles, Elizabeth Swensen, Carole Urbano, Michael Woods.

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