I just returned from the Games + Learning + Society conference held in Madison, WI at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. I have to say that of all the conferences that I have attended, this was the most thought provoking one to date. Any conference that gets you excited to attend when you read the session descriptions had to be awesome! Sessions covered the entire spectrum from designing educational games to using game-based theory in your classroom.
The opening keynote was Ernest Adams, the designer of the Madden football series. From the start, it was clear that I was in a gathering of academics and Ernest proved that with his first mention of American philosophy vs. French philosophy. His talk revolved around the battle between logic and feeling in the world of video games. Many games that are available now revolve around real life situations as it is easier for programmers to replicate real life than to generate in-depth, emotion evoking gaming experiences. He also alluded to the difficulty in designing a gaming experience that immerses you in the content rather than passively entertains you. When I was in the classroom I could relate to that statement. Often times, games would be used to solely recall information (i.e. flashcards) and not to immerse students in a concept. Some games have broken that model and use sound pedagogical methods to teach students concepts such as Math Snacks. Even so, this still shows that most games revolve around logic (math, science) rather than immersive storytelling (english, history.)
The other argument that Mr. Adams made was that computers and their use can be related to the invention of the steam engine. If you reflect on the invention of steam, you can find amazing contraptions and designs that solved the worlds problems using steam. Now, replace the word steam with computers. He said that society's push for one technology being used to solve everything is called technological determinism. How often have we seen the impacts of technological determinism in our classrooms? I know many of you are shocked to hear the technology consultant carrying on about technology not being the solution to all of our ills, but should you be? Good teaching is good teaching. There is still a place for the aha moment that comes from a student mixing blue and yellow water and getting green. But there is also a place for utilizing technology for asynchronous communications with people all over the world! As Adams mentioned, we have to find the right applications for this technology and maintain a balance. Computing technology is the new steam!
It's amazing how I intended to summarize the conference in one blog post but have come to realize that this is getting lengthy and I haven't even gotten to the other sessions, let alone the other keynotes! Let me finish this post with this thought. Adams suggested that what the world needs is a game designer who not only knows the technical side, but also has the ability to write a complex, immersive, thought provoking narrative, not unlike the Grapes of Wrath. How can we help our students become this well rounded developer of the future?