Gaming’s Place in Education

Book Keeper's Library Crew

Once upon a time I was a teacher. I served students for many years through trying to engage their minds, spark curiosity in the world around them, and teach problem solving skills so that they could tackle whatever problems the world would throw at them. Although it had its many stresses, it was a good time in my life. A happy time. Fulfilling. I think this is why the captain has given me this new assignment — this new direction.

You of all people should know how much I love a compelling story. The ones that while fictional, can teach us more about ourselves than simple self reflection ever could. A meditation in imagination if you will. And as we have discussed in the past, you know that this doesn’t stop with books and movies. It transcends into the games we play, and the stories we create. Remember when we talked about the fantastic worlds of Dungeons and Dragons? How a group of people could collectively buy in to an imaginary world with imaginary problems and then try to overcome them? The stories we tell and the games we play are as real as we make them. So why not use that to help change the world?

Because of my insight on education, and passion for a story, I want to spend some time talking more about real-world implications of the stories we tell and the games we play. More specifically, how we can tweak education to reap the benefits of gaming, and of collective storytelling.

Do a quick internet search, and you can find hundreds of ways to use games in the classroom to achieve learning. There has been extensive research done on the subject and gaming’s benefits in the classroom are no secret in the education world.

Depending on your age, you might remember a game called Oregon Trail. If you do remember playing the game Oregon Trail, then I can almost guarantee you learned at least one thing: Being a pioneer heading west along the Oregon Trail would have been a challenge. There, you learned something! But along the way did you not also learn something about resource management, and how the decisions you make have implications on others, not just yourself? That is to say, if you were paying attention.

Like most games, Oregon Trail presents problems for you to solve, or goals for you to achieve. When you fail, most often you figure out what you did wrong, apply that to your next try, and hopefully succeed.

If you play games, be they tabletop, video games, or board games, you are in some way trying to solve a problem. Along the journey of the game, or throughout a few rounds of play, you learn and internalize valuable information that helps make success at that game easier, or more assured. The “problem” may take many forms — some might be shallow, and others deep. Some significant, some not. You learn from your mistakes, overcome the challenge, and develop skills relevant to that game — you get an education in that game.

For the next few visits, we are going to discuss some of the themes and ideas entertained by Jane McGonigal’s book Reality is Broken and its implications on education. Long story short, the author of this book believes that the problem solving skills developed during playing a game can actually be applied to the real world, bringing down the wall between reality and the “imaginary” worlds that we engage in on a daily basis. She argues that this can lead to a better world, where people use their combined problem solving skills to face and overcome the many challenges of reality. I feel that these two things, that is the aforementioned concept and education, are closely connected.

The purpose of education is one of philosophical and political debate. But ultimately, if education is successful, then it allows the people entering the world from the classroom to overcome life’s challenges, be that through an understanding of basic mathematical concepts, written or verbal communication with others, trial and error, or cause and effect. Education equips people with skills they need to survive reality. Our own, real-world version of “It’s dangerous to go alone! Take this.”

It is for this reason that games have a place in the classroom, if done correctly.   

The next time you visit, we’ll talk about some of the ways that gaming is being used in the classroom and delve into Reality is Broken. In the meantime, McGonigal has given numerous Ted Talks that you might want to familiarize yourself with, as she discusses the same concepts included in her book.

As always, it was good talking to you. I hope that you are ready for a new direction in this New Year. I know I am.

Until next time, my friend.