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Game and instructional designers give advice for how educators should incorporate gaming

diversity-gaming-educationUsing games and designing games for education is not all, well, fun and games, say experts. In fact, the key to successfully using games for education is in promoting a diverse “ecosystem” of gameplay complete with codes of conduct.

In part one of this story, “#Gamergate—and what it means for gaming in education,” which discussed the cultural context of Gamergate and how it applies to education, MIT’s Education Arcade emphasized that “the key to fashioning the gaming world as a safe place for women and others is not necessarily censorship or making all games appeal to all potential players, but rather to create an ecosystem of games designed to appeal to players of different play styles, values, and backgrounds,” and nowhere is this ecosystem more important than education.

“Games are one of the best learning mediums in education because it forces the learner to interact with information,” explained Sherry Jones—a Philosophy, Rhetoric, and Game Studies instructor at the University of Colorado, Denver, as well as game studies facilitator for the Metagame Book Club at ISTE’s Games & Simulations Network.

Nicole Lazzaro, a psychology and computer programming graduate of Stanford University, president and founder of XEODesign, Inc., and one of Gamasutra’s ‘Top 20 Women Working in Video Games,’ echoed Jones’ belief, saying that all games are, at their foundation, educational.

“All games teach, so education should be built into the game mechanic: you master the game, you master the content,” she emphasized. “Play is where we invent our future selves, so learning is a natural result of most game design.”

However, though games are in themselves educational, Jones said that educators do have a responsibility to implement and design games that provide MIT’s suggested ecosystem of game play diversity.

According to these experts, here are 10 steps educators should take in promoting diversity and equal rights when using and designing games for learning:

When using games:

1. Play the game yourself: “Educators need to play the game first to know what portions are appropriate for students and whether or not the game aligns to the course’s goals,” said Kae Novak, an instructional designer for online learning at Front Range Community College and chair of ISTE’s Special Interest Group for Virtual Environments. [Read “Should every educator also be a gamer?”]

(Next page: Tips for using and creating games 2-10)

2. Pick games that allow for identity customization: Novak explained that games used in the classroom should allow students to play as characters that are not necessarily identical to themselves.

3. Pick games that are MMO: Massively Multiplayer Online (MMO) games are great for peer collaboration, said Novak, “because they really promote teamwork.”

4. Create a student code of conduct: “Playing a game doesn’t mean there are no rules,” she noted. “Make sure that you provide a game play code of conduct before students play; for example, just because you’re online doesn’t mean you can say anything or do anything that you wouldn’t do in a classroom—there should also be a dress code!”

5. Educate your students on gaming’s history: Educators should absolutely make all students in their classroom aware of the stereotypes that exist in gaming, said Jones. “Many of my male students have a sense of ownership of gaming; they see me as a woman teacher discussing gaming and many times have tried to make me feel ignorant. Many don’t even know that the first programmer was a woman: Ada Lovelace! But then we get to talking and there’s a new respect.”

6. Join a guild: Lots of guilds exist for educators who design or use games in the classroom, said Novak. These guilds are almost always gender-friendly and can provide a great source of feedback from peers at other campuses.

When designing games:

7. Don’t gender, or subject, stereotype: Games shouldn’t include certain aspects just because they’re for girls or because it’s about a certain topic, said Lazzaro. “Personally, I’d like to see someone make a math fractal game with the Disney Frozen license. I don’t think that STEM games should be stereotyped or that all games for women should be pink or about shopping or weddings.”

8. Don’t sacrifice fun for neutrality: Lazzaro said that though designers have the obligation to make games accessible regardless of gender identity, a lot of education games aren’t fun. “Let’s say you make an education game about a nuclear power plant; what’s the first thing players will want to do? Blow it up! Educational designers often forget that players—no matter gender—need to explore the ‘failure states’ as well as the ‘correct path.’”

9. Incorporate Serious Fun: Educational games have what game designers call “Serious Fun,” in that they offer feedback to the player on their game play through “fun” game mechanics. According to Lazzaro, “Serious Fun” is purposeful play that changes how players think, feel, behave, or make a difference in the real world. The excitement of this kind of game tries to enliven otherwise seemingly boring tasks, like learning facts or information. “Some great mechanics to engage Serious Fun are repetition, rhythm, collections and completion, and simulations whereby mastering the game you also master the content,” said Lazzaro.

10. Force the player to expand their identity: According to Novak, who designs games for different courses, nothing is more effective than a fully-immersive game that forces the player to redefine their identity. “I created a game based on the Tibetan Book of the Dead because at my college, nursing majors have to take a religion credit, and many chose ancient religions and eastern religion. Because the population we serve at our college comes from a mainly westernized cultural background, it was important to convey a viewpoint that is not just Judeo-Christian. Since the best way for students to learn is by immersive play and redefining identity, we made each player look like an almost genderless [holy person] and the character’s Buddhist body reincarnates. The game puts the player in a state before reincarnation and in order to get to the next state, the player must know the beliefs behind Buddhism…this game did a lot better than the readings!”

(Next page: 12 educational games and resources suggested by the experts)

Educational games suggested by the experts: Minecraft, Running of the Gnomes, Lure of the Labyrinth, The Radix Endeavor , Quandry, iCivics suite of products, Econauts, Tilt World iOS, Dys4ia, Empathy Machine, and many others.

Articles and groups suggested by the experts: The Metagame Book Club, “The Gamer Identity & The Representations of Gender and Race in Games,” The Learning Games Network, and Educade.

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