I’ve recently read a very interesting article by Richard Halverson, co-author of the book “Rethinking Education in the Age of Technology”. In his 2005 article “What Can K-12 School Leaders Learn from Video Games and Gaming?”, Halverson talks about how the difficulties between the schooling and gaming communities stem from the contrasting approaches each takes toward learning. He goes on to say that, essentially, schools strive to put forth a more “standardized learning experience”, whereas games on the other hand, “offer the prospect of user-defined worlds in which players try out (and get feedback on) their own assumptions, strategies, and identities.” The difficulty, he explains, is “to see how gaming can help teachers meet the demands of an increasingly standards-driven public schooling system.” Halverson does agree that some games have been “embraced” by educators, such as Oregon Trail or SimCity, due to their educative value, but in general gaming has become eliminated or marginalized from the learning environment.
When thinking about First Encounters and the idea that the player is immersed in a “user-defined world”, the difficulty in providing a comprehensive and accurate historical lesson of this time period becomes clear. It is obvious that the player’s ability to create his or her own version of history makes learning about a specific period in history (one which proceeded in a linear fashion) difficult to achieve. However, the learning that is experienced by playing First Encounters is more directly related to the cultural lessons provided through the game’s learning modules. The player that is immersed in a “user-defined world” is still presented with educational learning points relevant to those cultures in that time period. The evolution of relationships between the cultures in the game, on the other hand, is directly influenced by the player, and may very likely not turn out the way it did in history (or at least the history that we are familiar with). If teachers are able to take that cultural information that players gained through the game and turn it into a history lesson, that information, it can be argued, becomes more entrenched in the learner’s knowledge-base. Providing teachers with the ability to contextualize the information presented in a game, therefore, can facilitate learning and give video games a more prominent role in formal education.
Halverson, R. 2005. “What can K-12 school leaders learn from video game and gaming?”. Innovate 1 (6). http://www.innovateonline.info/index.php?view=article&id=81(accessed January 31, 2012)