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Games Play and Education

Games Play and Education

seminar blog of Jan Luchterhand

Why is a definable goal in the simulation game ‘Spore’ seen as a hindrance to what it is supposed to teach?

As written in the text, Will Wright (Creator of e.g. The Sims and spore) understands his game spore as a kind of “Montessori Toy” that will help to understand Darwin and his evolutionary theory in action. The point why Peuentedura says that this game isn’t even near to teach evolutionary theory as Darwin declares it, is that spore has a end goal. The Player hast the possibility to influence the “evolution” of its spore character thing at any point, trying to fulfil the end goal. I think that is exactly the opposite of Darwin’s evolutionary theory, where evolution takes place through mutation and natural selection. It is the word “natural” that describes the difference. Mutation takes place to change a certain organism to make it more suitable for the current environment. That happens by nature. In Spore the player, plays nature and changes its creature to reach the end goal.


Let’s imagine a game for a specific educational purpose - e.g. learning about wholesome nourishment, about trigonometry, or scientific research skills. What common metaphor resp. root framing may be usable? What narrative, context, situation and/or setting could be chosen?

For answering this question, I chose mathematics, more precisely geometry as an educational topic for a game. In my opinion teaching geometry is all about a good visualization. I think this fits perfectly for a computer game, where the game designer and educator can use the power of the computer to generate vivid visualizations of common geometric problems.
The question is what kind of framework, or common metaphor to choose for such a purpose. I think it would be good to let the gamer become a searcher, an explorer or a scientist, who tries o solve problems and needs the help of common geometric rules. I thought of a kind of ‘Star Trek’ exploring mission as framework for such a game. The original mission of the well-known star ship Enterprise is ‘to boldly go where no men has gone before’, to visit far away planets, to meet new species and cultures and to map planets, suns and galaxies. According to this ‘Star Trek’ metaphor I would set up the narrative frame of such a game with a story dealing about a team of a young man and a young woman, starting whit their little spaceship called explorer from the earth to map a certain galaxy and visit it’s planets. During their travel, they are forced to solve a variety of little problems, like in ‘Star Trek’. And that’s where the geometry literally comes into play. All those problems should be solved using geometric rules which could be taught in the classroom before playing the game or which can be explored in game, while playing. Maybe it would be fun also to play this game ‘in class’ with the pupils seated in front of the computer meeting with their space ships and their missions online, so that there is the possibility to cooperate with other players or interchange their gained knowledge.


1. Squire presents Game Based Learning as an alternative to eLearning. What are the shortcomings he sees in ‚classic’ eLearning?

Squire says that too many eLearning educators have focused too much on the „e“ in eLearning. That means that they spend too much energy in creating as much digital content as possible and missed trying to find new ways to change learning with the possibility of new and advanced technology.

2. What are the properties of targeted and of immersive games?

Targeted games differ from immersive games in the way that targeted games are, like the name says, created to be a very specific kind of training targeted to a special “learning goal”. Mostly the learner is already motivated, while immersive games have to create a certain motivation of the learner during the game. Like the table on page 27 shows, is the amount of time the learner stays in the game world in a targeted game much lower than in a immersive game, where the learner stays on his own, while in a targeted game the learner finds himself within a social context.

3. What is a common metaphor resp. experiential framing about?

The framing „emotionally engages and situates“ the learner in a certain context that opens up a way in which the problem should be viewed, so that everyone can understand it.
Maybe it would be good to find some examples for those metaphors. I was told, that for example fairy tales, mysths, sagas or legends set up a frame where some of those metaphors are easy to detect. If you think of Robin Hood for example. He functions as a metaphor for some attitudes like, taking something from the rich and giving it to the poor or some kind of sense of justice, that for example resistance against a system that is not acting right, is right. I think you could list many more, for Robin Hood and for others. Looking onto games, for example GTA ‘Grand Theft Auto’ also delivers such metaphors. You can learn how to make your way, from a mean small-time criminal to the greatest mafia boss who controls a whole city or even more. This could be seen as the “American Dream” in its illegal version. GTA is certainly not that kind of game based learning application you could use in your enterprise for teaching your employees some of your business guidelines, or what do you think? Maybe todays ‘gangster-training-camps’ are using games like GTA, Mafia, or Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon - Advanced Warfighter. The US Army uses their game Americas Army (that ist spread for free over the internet) to teach and train their soldiers in certain war simulations and to solidify their sense of right and wrong, war and peace and their military structures.


Can you give examples for play solidifying cultural aspects, and for play subverting and reinterpreting them? Are there mainstream (computer) games fitting into these categories of cultural conservation / change? What about Game Based Learning applications?

Maybe some games children invent by themselves would fit to this question. I think both sides can be found in the play of children. While children are trying to play adults, this kind of play would solidify some cultural aspects because they are trying to play most realistic as possible. Girls for example are often playing „mother & child“ with puppets or with friends playing the different roles. The way to care for a newborn child or the management of a little family can be copied from the parents, grandparents or from the parents of friends. I think only very few children would hurt or even let die their kids while playing, so the fact of solidifying cultural aspects will outweigh. I think all those „realistic“ games where children try to copy the behaviour of adult persons are a kind of play that solidifies those cultural aspects. More examples would be possibly, playing Fire fighter, Doctor, Salesman, Police and so on. I’m trying to find some examples for the other side that could be compared to those kinds of children games I mentioned before. Maybe playing to be a “street gang” is a kind of opposite, but also while playing „street gang“, there are some social structures according to current cultural aspects, like the structure of the gang with a leader to follow and so on. On the other hand while playing „street gang“ the player tries to subvert many cultural aspects by trying to do exactly the opposite of what is right.

I think the Sims or Black & White are some examples of computer games where both sides can be tested and played by the player. Playing the Sims I think it is fun to play by the rules of our society, to act most realistic and to succeed in doing that, but I think it is also great fun to test those rules, to figure out how to break them and to see what happens when acting totally against those rules. Maybe Black & White is there one more step ahead, for the idea of this game is to play god. Playing this god in Black & White you can choose to play a good or an evil god and to test what happens to the people living under your might according to the way you control the world.


1. What is the difference between „programmiertes Spiel“ and „unprogrammiertes Spiel“?

In general I would say programed play follows some rules or oders given by others or by the things you play with itself, while unprogramed play does not follow given rules or orders. For example, a game is always programed play as long as you follow the rules, it becomes unprogramed play if you create new roles by yourself.

2. What kind of society is Sutton-Smith (1978) predicting we’re going to live in (today)?

Sutton-Smith predicts, that we are goining to live in a rapidly changing information and knowlege society.

3. How does play handle relationsships of power?

While playing the relationship of power often shifts or even inverts. Persons, especially children, who have less power outside a game or play tnow can use and test power they won’t normally have.


What is the difference between intrinsic and extrinsic motivation?

Intrinsic motivation is a type of motivation caused by an inner impulse when you recognize that something is interresting or necessary for solving a certain problem or for unterstanding a certain context.
On the other side extrisic motivation is forced by external impluses like to get good grades or to avoid to be punished by your teacher or your parents for not gaining some or the right achievements.


What discerns ‘real’ games from serious games?

A ’serious’ game, according to Michael and Chen differs with a ‘normal’ game in the way that the purpose of a ’serious game’ is not to be entertaining or enjoying at first sight. The focus is lying on educational purposes. If those games make fun it’s even better, but they don’t have to.


Give an example for one in principle decidable and one in principle undecidable question.

I would say that the question: “Will Water start to boil when you heat it upon more than 100 degree Celsius?” is in principle decidable. And I think the question we all heard about: “What is the sense of life?” is in principle undecidable, as long as you accept that “42″ is not the right answer!


Give one example for a double-bind-situation.

I found a quite good example of a double-bind-situation on wikipedia.org. It describes a situation where a mother tells his little child that she loves her or him but while saying this she turns away in disgust. The problem is that the child does not know how to respond to the conflict between the words and the body language of her or his mother. I’m currently trying to find an other example for a double-bind situation by myself, maybe later more about that…


What paradigm would be the most important (e.g. for your field of expertise as teacher)?

According to our group discussion we figured out, that most of the time class is organized in behaviouristic structures, where the teacher is standing in front of the class arranging duties. That isn’t just a negative fact, many generations of pupils have learned that way, but as the text says situative or constructivist learning would be better in most cases. Inert knowledge could be avoided for example. Many concepts today include focusing more on the individual person, what applies more to the constructivist theory and that’s good and needed I think. But with today’s class sizes establishing a lesson with a focus on each child and doing it alone all the term is nearly impossible I think. Maybe games with a constructivist structure could be a helping hand at that point. I hope we will find out more about that, because most of the software pupils are learning with at school today use a behaviouristic structure. I think most of the learning software uses a system of questioning and answering witch more or less awarding and “punishment”. Learning vocabulary is maybe a good example to see the differences between behaviouristic learning and constructivist learning. Most pupils learn vocabulary to get through a test. After writing it most of the vocabulary is maybe lost after a few weeks, except the little amount of vocabulary that has to be used during class. Does a pupil get the chance to participate in a exchange with another pupil living in a foreign country, the pupil learns to speak that language faster and even better, because he is in a situation where he is in need of speaking this language.