Clash of Clans. It’s not an open world environment, but as a strategy game, it does help students master plenty of useful concepts, Malstrom said. In the game, which is available on most mobile platforms, players marshal troops, cast spells, manage resources, and build villages. “It’s a really interesting platform that’s pretty easily accessible for studying strategy, planning, economics, and also to talk about game design,” Malstrom said. “One of the things I really like about these particular games is it gives you immediate feedback so you can develop strategies. It offers some unique opportunities.”

Second Life. At one point this massive multiplayer open world, with social dynamics more akin to a neverending cocktail party than a traditional multiplayer game, looked poised to supplant social networking and gaming as we knew it. Its popularity may have petered out, but its value hasn’t. Like most sandbox worlds, it has the potential to inspire kids with passions for building and creating in a collaborative environment. “The artistic component of second life, for me that’s such a cool opportunity,” Wheelock said. “When you go to an art museum, you look at a picture and admire the artist and walk away. In a virtual world, you can take pictures of that build, you could add to that build, you could build around it. Second Life is drawing some really great artists because of that.” Wheelock has also toyed with embedding mystery-style games, where students must piece together hints and discoveries, “almost like a game of Clue, where you’re trying to solve something, but you’re working together as a team.”

Unity3D. While it’s not a virtual world per se, Unity, a high-powered design engine, can be used to build one. It’s not for the novice gamer, but Wheelock suggests this ultra powerful — but still free — design tool for game development classes, likely at the high school level. If a teacher wants to dig into it, the training is going to be pretty intense,” he cautioned. “It’s not something like Minecraft, but the end product is going to look like a professional game. One of the nice things about Unity is there is a developer’s place where you can buy or get stuff for free. There’s a whole community of builders you can pull from.”