Educational gaming involves students taking part in complex multiplayer games, which have much in common with web 2.0 in their facilitation of interaction, collaboration and co-construction of learning. Traditionally these games have taken place in simulated 3-dimensional gaming environments akin to virtual worlds, with the distinction being that the former entail the pursuit of in-game goals, whereas the latter do not. Such gaming environments may have been created specifically for educational purposes, though more commonly students are asked to interact on existing commercial game platforms. Complex multiplayer gaming is also gradually migrating to mobile devices, where it may make use of augmented reality interfaces that blend the virtual and the real, opening up a new frontier in mobile learning.
In general, gaming refers to what Marc Prensky has called complex games (as opposed to mini-games), or what the Horizon Report has called collaborative digital games (as opposed to non-digital games and non-collaborative digital games). Such games are sometimes referred to as MMOs or MMOGs, that is, Massively Multiplayer Online Games. Gaming is thus distinct from gamification, which involves layering game-like elements over existing learning activities, most commonly web 1.0 behaviourist activities. That said, it must be acknowledged that there is something of a sliding scale from simpler gamified apps such as Type:Rider (for Android or Apple devices) and Device 6 through simulation-based educational games to true commercial MMOs.
Some useful simulation-based games for maths and science include Contraption Maker, Kerbal Space Program, Portal 2, and Universe Sandbox; some of these allow students to create puzzles for each other. Other games include Epistory (about English vocabulary), Human Age (about the history of humanity), and Tyto Online (about the environment). It is generally necessary to register to participate in such games, and there may be costs attached. For serious games aiming to create social change, check out the list at Games for Change.
Contemporary commercial MMOs like World of Warcraft or Heroes of the Storm are seen by some educators as having potential for promoting task-based learning, collaborative problem-solving, negotiation of meaning, and multimodal communication. Minecraft, a virtual environment where everything is made from cubes (see the image at the top of the page), is often used with younger learners; there is a Minecraft Education Edition and its educational potential has been documented for example in Teaching in the Age of Minecraft (Alexandra Ossola, 2015), Ideas for Using Minecraft in the Classroom (Andrew Miller, 2016), and Minecraft Education Edition: Why It’s Important for Every Fan of the Game (Keith Stuart, 2016). Older students might use platforms like World of Warcraft, whose educational potential has been documented for example in Learning in World of Warcraft (Michelle Hoyle, 2012), A Teacher’s Perspective on World of Warcraft in School (Stephanie Carmichael, 2017) and World of Warcraft in the Classroom (Caleb Gillis, 2017). The principles of learning discussed in these articles apply to many other similar games. Educators might also like to explore the communicative possibilities offered by machinima movies, which can be easily produced by students in gaming environments or virtual worlds.
It has been realised in recent years that there is considerable scope for developing students’ computational thinking and coding skills, and indeed their wider digital literacies, as they become involved in designing, building and disseminating their own games. For a list of some appropriate game design platforms for students, see Common Sense Education’s 3 Great Game Design Tools for Summer Learning (Emily Major, 2016).
There is also growing educational interest in pervasive games, which are played on mobile devices and make use of augmented reality technology, leveraging the real world as a gaming environment. There is great potential here for situated, immersive, embodied learning. The best-known of today’s pervasive games include Ingress and Pokémon Go, both by Niantic, a spin-off from Google.
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