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Educational Games An introductory lecture Game Theory 10.12.07 Rasmus Harr Contents A bit of history Why educational games got popular during the last 5 years The learning theories behind educational games The problems of designing educational games A bit of history

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educational games

Educational Games

An introductory lecture

Game Theory 10.12.07

Rasmus Harr

  • A bit of history
  • Why educational games got popular during the last 5 years
  • The learning theories behind educational games
  • The problems of designing educational games
educational games and the military
Educational games and the Military
  • Chaturanga
    • 7th century, India – the predecessor of Chess
  • Koenigspiel & Kriegspiel
    • Started as a hobby in prussian military circles in 17th century, but spread.
    • von Reisswitz 1824: LARGE war game for training and fun for the German army


educational games and the military5
Educational games and the Military
  • Start of 20th century: Almost all countries use war games to train and educate in military strategy
  • World War II extensively “gamed”
  • Today:
    • Marine Doom
    • Delta Force 2
    • Guard Force and Joint Force Employment
    • America’s Army
    • Full Spectrum Warrior
    • Close Combat Marines
    • Full Spectrum Command
business games and simulations
Business games and simulations
  • 1956: US Air Force Monopologs
    • Inventory managers managing Air Force supply system
  • 1957: Top Management Decision Simulation
    • University of Washington, business college class  success of business games and simulations has continued ever since
  • Commercial successes also
    • The Tycoon-games, Capitalism-games

Railroad Tycoon

educational computer games the early days
Educational Computer Games – the early days
  • The early years (progressive titles)
    • Oregon Trail, MECC, 1971
    • Lemonade Stand, 1971
    • 1973: Plato: Inspired by Piaget and Dewey – make math more everyday like ”2 and 2 bananas” – proved to by very effective
    • Rocky Boots 1982 (design logical circuits) – simulation as key to learning environment
    • The Robot Odyssey 1984
  • The start of behaviorist edutainment too:
    • 1979 Electric Company Math Fun
    • (The more right answers the faster you progress through the jungle. If you fail an answer your gorilla is thrown in the river and cannot get up before answering a new question correctly.)

Oregon Trail 1985 (commercial ed.)

  • Electric Company Math Fun
80s adventure games
80s: Adventure games
  • 1982: Snooper Troops
  • 1984: Winnie the Pooh in Hundred Acres Wood
  • 1985: Where in the world is Carmen Sandiego
  • 1985: Oregon Trail (Commercial edition)
  • 1986: Mickey's Space Adventure
  • (Close integration between motivation and learning)
    • 80s Educational games contested entertainment games in terms of sales (titles described at The Underdogs, and Mobygames)

Snooper Troops

80s and especially 90s edutainment
80s and especially 90s: Edutainment
  • 1984: Seven Cities of Gold
  • 1987: Mavis Beacon teaches typing
  • A curious offspring: ”Typing of the Dead”
  • Extrinsic motivation: Learning and game are split up
  • Edutainment market grows and behaviorist titles slowly become dominating pushing other types of educational computer games out of the market

Mavis Beacon teaches typing

  • Educational games move from game industry to educational publishers
  • Adventure games grow less popular after the mid-90s, and ed. games almost die out
  • Commercial games with educational elements:
    • SimCity (1989), Lemmings (1990), SimEarth (1990), Civilization (1991)
    • Eco Quest (1992) (designed by Jane Jensen who later did the Gabriel Knight-series)
    • The Incredible Machine 1993
  • Big current edutainment brands are started in the mid-90s:
    • Freddie Fish (1994)
    • Putt Putt Saves the Zoo (1995)
    • MS Magic School Bus Explores (1995)
    • Pajama Sam (1996)

Pajama Sam

today serious games
Today: Serious games

The Serious Games’ initiative 2002

Games for other purposes than merely entertainmentEducational GamesEdutainmentAdvergamesBusiness gamesMilitary gamesPolitical gamesSimulation Games

examples of recent titles
Examples of recent titles
  • Making History: The Calm and the Storm
  • GC: Palestine
    • Trailer
  • Constructivist and socio-cultural approaches

Making History

GC: Palestine

lots of research world wide
Lots of research world wide
  • Starting point: Critique of edutainment
      • Started out as a serious attempt to use games for learning but ended in caricatures of games and a conservative use of learning, extrinsic motivation bad for learning
  • Common Belief
    • Better learning experiences, better technical platforms – learning experience is not limited to what happens between player and game (Squire/Gee – constructionist/socio-cultural learning theories gain ground)
why the rise on popularity of serious games
Why the rise on popularity of Serious Games?
  • Computer games more mainstream
  • More research on computer games
  • Technology
  • Learning is high on the public agenda
    • Life-long learning, home learning, supplementary training  a more flexible approach to learning
  • Part of the general focus on new media and learning
  • Remediation: New media affects and are affected by other media – does that also apply for education?
  • Games: Engagement and motivation
claims about education and new media
Claims about education and new media
  • 21st century skills
  • Twitch-speed generation
  • Generation G
  • Before every child is leftbehind
  • Teaching for Innovation
  • Staying in front of Indiaand China
  • We must look at what games have to offer vs. other educational media
10 min break
10 min. break
  • Grab some coffee – after the break its theory!
how do educational games work a look at learning theories used on games
How do educational games work?A look at learning theories used on games




Socio-Cultural Approach

  • The player practices a specific area through repetition while receiving rewards after each proper response.
  • Extrinsic Motivation and a focus on transfer rather than construction
  • Pavlov: Experiments with dogs
  • Thorndike: Law of Exercise and Effect
  • Skinner: Drill-and-practice machine. Overt actions, not reflection, not understanding
  • 80s behaviorism was prominent, in the 90s it became the norm
  • Typing of the Dead a very good example
behavorism strengths and weaknesses
Behavorism – strengths and weaknesses
  • Strengths
    • Has been very effective within game design
    • Has been effective within area of health
    • A study of the game Bronkie the Bronchiasaurus, which compares the game with watching a documentary (Lieberman 1997, 2001)
  • Weaknesses
    • Scope of learning: Focuses merely on training of mechanical operations, therefore limits to what one can learn – memorizing/rote learning of specific behaviours but no deep understanding (works for writing, typing etc. but not much else)
    • Extrinsic Motivation: Makes kids more interested in playing the game than learning – ex. getting points for completing a level becomes more important than learning
  • How to enhance the learning of video games by being aware of the limitations of the humans cognitive apparatus
  • Titles: Discovery and inquiry, letting the player construct his/her own learning representations in an active dialogue with the game
  • Schematas with limits and opportunities
  • Piaget is often referred to as the father of cognitivism
  • Neuro-science on organization of materials
    • Retrieval, Encoding, Chunking, Modalities, Transfer-problems, scaffolding of information
  • Game Example: Phoenix Quest & Super Tangrams

Phoenix Quest

Super Tangrams

cognitivism continued
Cognitivism - continued
  • Malone and Lepper: 1987 Extrinsic motivation is in the way of the learning experience
  • Challenge
    • Difficulty level, short-term and long-term goals, uncertain outcomes, and facilitating investment of self-esteem through meaningful goals
  • Feedback
  • Curiosity
    • Encourage exploration and organization of the information in relation to both the sensory and the cognitive areas. (via pointers towards large unknown information hidden in game)
  • Experience of control
    • Responsive environment, high degree of choice, ability of player to perform great effects
  • Fantasy
    • Fantasy elements which appeal to the target group emotionally, metaphors for the learning content, and be an endogenous part of the learning material
  • Interpersonal activity
    • Increased motivation resulting from social context of game: Competition and collaboration with peer. Recognition of peers serves as motivation
cognitivism limitations and potentials
Cognitivism - Limitations and potentials
  • Strengths
  • Has a lot to say on the design of the game, and the motivation of the learner
    • Flow experiences, audiovisual props, control of learning process
    • Marshall Jones: Learning games’ theory for flow – explains a great deal on intrinsic motivation
    • Klawe: Strong elements in video games: unlimited number of activities, visualization, manipulation, symbolic representations, adaptive sequencing, feedback, and meaningful, contextualized activities.
  • Learning outcome: Klawe and Sedighian: Super Tangrams and Phoenix Quest (Math teaching)
  • Weaknesses
  • Cognitivism often focus on meta-skills: Problem-solving, thus less on content-side
  • Still focuses on the relation between the player and the game – does not include context of play
  • Emphasizes the active role of the learner and external objects in the learning process.
  • Seymore Papert – drawing on Piaget – The Logo programming language, uses geometric shapes to draw – for children. - Mindstorms book and Lego toys!
  • Constructionist titles: Microworlds – engage with artefacts in microworlds and learn about them
  • The constructivist edutainment microworlds simulate a part of the world allowing the player to explore
  • The focus is not on hard content as such, but rather on the general skills of creativity, problem-solving, critical-thinking skills, sequential planning, and memory
  • Kafai: Research w. letting kids design games – new media literacy

My Make-believe Castle

constructionism continued
Constructionism - continued
  • Strengths
    • Includes the context more in the learning
    • Works for maths and programming-teaching (Kafai)
  • Weaknesses
    • Kafai (1996) Design of microworlds is a lot harder than drill-and-practice games
      • The topic in the microworld has to be integrated, no well-tested action formula blueprint as with behaviorist or cognitivist titles
    • Does not say much about the game
socio cultural approach
Socio-cultural approach
  • Video games are not the learning experience per se – but the tool for creating a learning experience.
  • Rote learning is not what video games is about – instead they are about mediating discussions, reflection, facts, and analysis via the surrounding classroom cultures.
  • Vygotsky: Video game as an embodied tool extends action of a given agent (learner) and creates opportunities and limitations for the learner.
  • Different contexts and tools facilitate a variety of learning experiences.
  • Carsten Jessen’s research: Peer-learning around gaming. Informal learning processes
  • Squire 2004: Civilization 3 in the classroom for mediating History discussions

Civilization 3

socio cultural approach continued
Socio-cultural approach - continued
  • Proximate development (Vygotsky): How far can I get alone, how far can I get with help?
    • From actual point of development to potential point of development.
  • Tools/helper are mediators to facilitate the learner’s appreciation of a given activity
  • Video game as an embodied tool extends action of a given agent (learner) and creates opportunities and limitations for the learner.
tensions between the 4 theoretical frameworks
Tensions between the 4 theoretical frameworks
  • Learning vs. Playing: A whole or two parts? Extrinsic or intrinsic motivation?
  • Freedom vs. control: How much freedom to students? Teachers creating a firm setting w. educational goals
  • Drill-and-practice vs. microworlds: Benefit of drill and practice is limited, but it is cheap to create, most research is on micro-worlds, but few games reflect that (Making History and GC: Palestine)
  • Transmission vs. Construction: Only behaviorism and early cognitivism believes in learning as transmission, most other theories are about constructing knowledge
  • Transfer: Immersive effects of video games lead to lack of awareness of contents, structures, and concepts in game – results in weaker learning and transfer. Stealth or explicit learning?
  • Teacher intervention vs. no teacher intervention: Behaviorism and cognitivism neglect teacher approach even though a lot of research says it is important
practical barriers
Practical Barriers
  • Practical/structural
    • Technical limitations
    • Limited space
    • Time slots for lessons
  • Game-related
    • Learning the game
    • Complexity of the game
    • Students a wide target audience w. diff. prefs. and skills.
    • Balance between playing/learning and integration of computer games with teaching
  • Expectations
    • The students’ and the teachers’ initial way of thinking about computer games, history, learning, and teaching.
history teaching as an example
History teaching as an example
  • Procedural skillsCivilization 3, Making History – often counter-factual history – understand the system behind history (as opposed to facts)
    • History the Niall Ferguson- or Jared Diamond way
  • MicroworldGC: Palestine – simulate the experience – realism, understand the places and the people behind a Discovery-like experience
  • Often a mix:
    • Epistemic Games – both the system and a simulation of the experience – ex:, games for companies
design with all 4 theories
Design with all 4 theories?
  • Behaviorism
    • Examines the narrow relation between video game and students focusing on the role of motivation (no context at all – very focused on cause-and-effect)
  • Cognitivism
    • Examines how knowledge of the human cognitive apparatus can be used to facilitate learning and motivation (a little more context, focuses on the “why” also, as well as preferences of the individual player)
  • Constructionism
    • Shows us how video games can be used as a shared artifact for constructing knowledge (a lot more context – how the game is just one tool on the road to learning, includes a social aspect)
  • Socio-cultural approach
    • Examines the environment that emerges around video games in negotiating and constructing knowledge. Collaboration, debriefing, and discussion (focuses on EVERYTHING – how the game can be a small part in an educational and cultural context)