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Monday, December 19, 2005

What are the advantages and disadvantages of serious games?

I received this question via email a few days ago. It prompted an interesting response from me... a brief summary of my thoughts on the subject actually... so I thought I'd share it here, too.
In short, I think the impact of serious games, or rather the potential impact, is to provide a powerful medium for education and for affecting positive social change. The advantages are many. For starters, games are engaging and motivating, and appeal to students (particularly young students) in a medium they are comfortable with (see Marc Prensky's work, particularly his writings on Digital Natives and Digital Immigrants for more on this). Also, and this is what I am most interested in, games can provide a context for learning, opportunities for inquiry, and a framework for collaboration... all elements that are important in an educational environment, particularly in the constructivist philosophy (here, I hope, is where my research - and my blog, might come in handy). Finally, games - particularly those with many simulation elements - can be used to teach content that is typically very difficult to teach in the classroom, including non-linear content such as cyclical or systems content (see Clark Aldrich's work for more on these content types), and what some call 21st century skills of digital age literacies, inventive thinking (particularly risk taking), effective communication, and high productivity (see http://www.ncrel.org/engauge/skills/skills.htm for an explanation of what I mean by these skills).

As for the disadvantages, there are several obvious ones... in terms of current commercial games, we have a ways to go to deal with the violence and gender equity issues. Too, most current games can be very sedentary activities. From an educational technology standpoint, most games will place considerable demands on schools' student-to-computer ratios, hardware specs, and infrastructure (connectivity and bandwidth). Development of the games, and an economic model, may be the biggest hurdles involved.
I hope this might help others who are newly interested in the subject. I'm also hoping some of you who know quite a bit more will share your thoughts on this summary. For instance... what'd I leave out?



At 10:20 AM, Blogger Jean-Claude Bradley said...

Mark, I am wondering why you list violence in some games as a disadvantage. The availability of violent games does not affect the availability of E-rated games. Also, is there evidence to show that violent games cannot be used to teach effectively (of course with adult students)?

At 6:17 AM, Anonymous Ann said...

So that is a person from America? I'm gonna find some more people like you. If you want to visit me (my site) I'd be very glad : www.blush.mylog.pl
(actually I'm in Glasgow, SCOTLAND, but I'm from Poland.) So it sounds interesting to have a contact with people so far away from me.

At 8:02 AM, Blogger idarknight said...

The most obvious advantage would be that learning becomes something that students understand happens outside of the classroom. It seems that many people still have the "four walls" mentality and that is stifling much of what can be done, games are a "gateway" of sorts to get learning out of the classroom and into other spaces and using a language that is applicable and transferable.

I agree with Jean-Cluade, violence need not be a bad thing in games and creating an argue based on non threatening games won't move the ideas of game based learning forward.

Games are places where students can take risks, and those risks require some element of controversy.

I've got quite a few postings on my blog about this - I found you through Mr. Mackenty.

At 11:02 AM, Blogger Mark Wagner said...


As always, you've left an insightful comment. I am not at all personally concerned with violence as a disadvantage to games in education. I consider it a convenient metaphor for problem solving in most games - a lazy metaphor perhaps. My take on this often goes something like this: I've never met a kid, however young - or however hormonal, or a person of any age for that matter, who didn't clearly know the difference between fun violence in a video game and how awful it is to hurt someone in real life. However, do acknowledge that violence is a concern for others, and ss I work in public k-12 education, public perception is an issue. Perhaps I should have listed this as disadvantage! I see though, that you too feel there must be some responsibility to at least consider violence when it comes to the use of games with children... given your "with adults" parenthetical comment. Your teaching environment is quite a bit different from those I support unfortunately.


At 11:15 AM, Blogger Mark Wagner said...


I'm afraid I can't read your blog. :(

In any case it's great to get a comment from Scottland. Check out Fionna Littleton's site (and blog) at http://www.flittleton.com/ - she is in Scotland right now, too.

I also work with a Polish man in California who is also doing research in Educational Technology. He is keeping a site related to his work at delphistudy.org if you are interested.

I'm looking forward to corresponding with you more...


At 1:07 PM, Blogger Mark Wagner said...

Thanks for the comment, idarknight. I'm glad to have discovered your blog and have subscribed. And as for your feedback, yes, I think games and simulations can be a way for students to experience things they might otherwise not be able to. I like that you've associated this with the idea of the porous classroom. And I am particularly interested in the value of games as an environment to practice risk taking.

I'm looking forward to following your blog and to further corresponding with you.


At 1:05 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

i have found some of your information useful for my coursework but what you have on disadvantages is really not a lot, violent games may be one of the but it can also not be, it all really depends on the player of the game and how they cope.......


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