White House Investigating Benefits Of Games

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White House Investigating Benefits Of Games

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Obama may not be a fan of giving kids unrestricted access to games, but his administration is looking at using them to make the world a better place.

It's no secret that - aside from keeping us all entertained - videogames can make great teaching tools. Examples of this include a game that was actually successful at teaching kids math skills and one that taught young women how to avoid being pressured into sex, but it sounds like a great deal more of them are on the horizon. Why? Because the White House is interested in getting various agencies using games for educational purposes.

Constance Steinkuehler is a former MMO guild leader turned senior policy analyst who works for the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy. Steinkuehler's job requires her to study games and figure out how the Obama Administration can make use of games that improve health, education, the environment, and many other fields. In a recent USA Today feature, she says that her position represents, "an incredible opportunity to make good on the claim that games have real promise."

While Obama has gone on the record as being against parents who give their kids unlimited TV/game time, he's also gone on record as stating he wants to see educational software that's just as good as AAA games. As a result, Steinkuhler is juggling a bevy of tasks, from researching which agencies already use games to helping develop "big, save-the-world games."

From the sound of the article, Steinkuhler's research seems like it's starting to come to fruition. Shortly after arriving in Washington, the woman had "'a really mobilized group' to coordinate the government's gaming portfolio." We'll just have to wait and see how it all winds up paying off.

Source: USA Today

Permalink

Oh it is election season already? Man how time flies when you don't give a damn.

Huzzah! This sounds promising.

Seems a little late considering Obama is probably gonna get booted out at the end of the year...but hey it may make video games less satan worship and more an activity to be enjoyed in moderation.

Monkeyman O'Brien:
Oh it is election season already? Man how time flies when you don't give a damn.

My thoughts exactly lol. This is one time we need to just let it go, Obama is doing nothing more than trying to drum up election votes for gamers.

DaHero:

My thoughts exactly lol. This is one time we need to just let it go, Obama is doing nothing more than trying to drum up election votes for gamers.

I doubt that's his aim. I mean, the only people who are going to read this small piece of news are likely to be gamers, who are mostly young people, who mostly vote Democrat anyway. This is as likely to give him votes from the gamer demographic as it is to lose him some amongst the older, conservative game-fearing crowd.

Haha, state sponsored video games... FAIL! Seriously though, a AAA edutainment game would never work. There is no reason why anyone would choose to play it over another AAA title who's main goal wasn't to educate you in something. It would have to be a competitive title, and that doesn't carry the descriptor, "fun for an educational title". If it's not competitive, it won't matter. And I seriously doubt that the majority of tax payers would want their money going towards funding such projects.

I could be wrong, so good luck.

I for one am not thinking Cynically about this. Its great to see the government actually looking into this great medium of ours.

So he's finally got around to playing the Witcher 2?

vansau:
White House Investigating Benefits Of Games

This sounds like a middle school student council campaign promise, "We'll turn jobs into games! And we'll put a vending machine in every desk!"

I'm all for finding ways to make better educational games. They make novel little distractions, and they can provide an occasional break from the tedium of the still-very-necessary repetition required for some types of learning. I just hate this idea that it's somehow going to be this magic pill that fixes education.

Novelty has a shelf life. And learning is just not always going to be fun. And what's more, learning how to take a job that's not fun and still do it is a necessary skill that a lot of students do not have. Games are a diversion. Diversions can occasionally be put to good use, just like occasional breaks can increase worker productivity... but too many breaks means no work is being done, and too much diversion interferes with actual learning.

The more the government investigates this, the more they're going to find that "educational games" basically just amount to being "animated word problems" or "digital flash cards." At their absolute worst, they're thinly-veiled "push correct pedal, receive treat" conditioning. All of these are useful for teaching memorization, which is the lowest form of learning, by the way.

Their value for teaching other things is nothing more than convenience. It's more convenient to have a machine do the work of constructing the parts of a word problem and illustrating it for the student... but at the same time, they're no longer learning how to do that for themselves. Or even that they should!

Is it possible to design good games that introduce complex concepts and skills, provide practice in those skills, and provide meaningful assessment as to whether and how those skills have been acquired? Sure. But you'll need a new one every week, and a whole new set each year. And you'll need several different kinds of each, because different students consider different games fun, and the whole idea is that no student should ever have to do anything they don't personally consider fun...

And the government will quickly find that the development time and the expense of that whole process are simply not going to be worth it. Games are a tool for drilling prior learning, and a distraction when forced into any other role.

latenightapplepie:

DaHero:

My thoughts exactly lol. This is one time we need to just let it go, Obama is doing nothing more than trying to drum up election votes for gamers.

I doubt that's his aim. I mean, the only people who are going to read this small piece of news are likely to be gamers, who are mostly young people, who mostly vote Democrat anyway. This is as likely to give him votes from the gamer demographic as it is to lose him some amongst the older, conservative game-fearing crowd.

The goal isn't so much to gain the support of those voters (who, as you rightly mentioned, generally lean Dem anyway). It's to grab their attention so that hopefully more of them will get out and vote. It's just meant to present an issue that feels "current" and "in touch" with the new adult generation.

Most campaign tactics aren't about changing a person's mind. They're about mobilizing the people that would vote for you... if they voted.

Though they are not popular around here anymore, this guy really needs to be in contact with the 'Extra Credits' guy's, after they tried to spear head 'gamification' for educational purposes. Obviously a head of their time....

This sounds like a joke to me. To be honest most of the "successful" educational games seem to largely be propaganda, or simply viewed as successful compared to other games of the sort.

See, the thing you have to understand is that games are fun because they are entertaining, a lot of subjects just aren't fun, even if the information they impart might be useful on some levels. All claims to the contrary aside, your just not going to make Algebra and Calculus entertaining.

The issue of the amount of educational content is also a big deal. In general the best kinds of games for teaching something are those who impart very little of the educational material, compared to the amount of fun gameplay. See something like "Titan Quest" or a similar game might wind up teaching kids a little bit about ancient mythology and some historical personages and cities indirectly, but 99% of the time is spent killing crap and leveling up where the learning takes place verrrry slowly and over time. That's not something that is going to satisfy educational requirements.

Beyond ancient history, things become heavily tainted by politics. Opinions of say FDR or the "New Deal" are greatly varied for example. Do you present Edison as one of the greatest innovators in history, or a hack? Do you present American history through the hip liberal lens of white guilt or not? How do you present France during World War II? Do you say they were conquered by the Nazis and fought a huge resistance against them, or rolled over for them, provided support with a very small resistance overall, and then rolled over again ON the Nazis when they realized the wind was changing and that win or lose they were going to get wrecked by the Allies if they didn't change sides (with history being a sort of political compromise). It's a touchy subject, there are reasons why a lot of the older generation, and those who lived through World War II, refer to the French as being "surrender monkeys" and other less pleaant things, since by all accounts they kind of played both sides in a way very differant from how most history currently records it, France being out for what benefitted France, and willing to work with whomever, doing whatever it took to minimize damage directly to their country... an understandable perspective, but hardly the noble one. There were battles against French nationalists and a resistance by them, but not quite what many people believe.

The point being that there are reasons why educational games fail, there is no way to make cramming fun, and like it or not there is no such thing as a standard corriculum when it comes to things like history since it's a mess of politics.

Basically it sounds like Obama's people are trying to talk a good game, but the sentiments aren't anything new. If anything they show a complete detachment from reality.

Also to be honest I find that abstinance game kind of disturbing... But then again I'm one of those who believes in teaching sexual responsibility, and that teenage sex (ie teens with other teens) is part of growing up and learning about life. Trying to force abstinance at that age is actually kind of a bad idea and leads to all kinds of problems. Truthfully instead of bothering to produce propaganda games, you might as well just assign "Twilight"
on the recommended reading list.

See, if I had a daughter I'd want her to avoid disease and pregnancy by taking the proper precautions and not feeling like she had to sneak off into dangerous places to get away from everyone. The mistakes and bad experiences that are doubtlessly going to ensue are thus ones with minimal physical repercussions and which I could help her with, and learning from those mistakes are going to form valuable life lessons from there on out towards her becoming a well adjusted person.

The abstinance video game is more like propaganda from the other side, not education. It's sort of like if I made a game teaching the proper techniques for slipping on condoms or whatever, that's just as educational from the other perspective... which is to say not educational at all.

Screamarie:
Seems a little late considering Obama is probably gonna get booted out at the end of the year...but hey it may make video games less satan worship and more an activity to be enjoyed in moderation.

You're assuming the clown car that represents the opposition have a chance of convincing anybody that they're any more competent.

I don't know how to take that "save the world games" view on this.

weirdguy:

Screamarie:
Seems a little late considering Obama is probably gonna get booted out at the end of the year...but hey it may make video games less satan worship and more an activity to be enjoyed in moderation.

You're assuming the clown car that represents the opposition have a chance of convincing anybody that they're any more competent.

I don't know how to take that "save the world games" view on this.

I suppose you have a point. America is kind of like a beaten girlfriend. "What honey? You beat hell out of me for the last four years but you promise to change? Oh how I love you! What you need a thousand dollars? By tomorrow? And you're not gonna pay it back? Well I suppose that's okay as long as you keep your promise."

Not necessarily saying Obama is worse than say Bush, but he hasn't delivered on his promises. The only thing I can say about Obama is that he does seem to care...or at least is a very good actor...at least in comparison to Bush.

Dastardly:

The goal isn't so much to gain the support of those voters (who, as you rightly mentioned, generally lean Dem anyway). It's to grab their attention so that hopefully more of them will get out and vote. It's just meant to present an issue that feels "current" and "in touch" with the new adult generation.

Most campaign tactics aren't about changing a person's mind. They're about mobilizing the people that would vote for you... if they voted.

True. I missed that possibility. Sometimes I forget that America and many other countries don't have compulsory voting like my own.

This seems at least somewhat promising to get gaming into the modern world without any of those pressure groups whining like a bitch. I just hope the White House gives a thumbs up to gaming, it would put a lot off of videos games.

If they really thought games were educational, how come Schwarzenegger's bill got so far?

latenightapplepie:
True. I missed that possibility. Sometimes I forget that America and many other countries don't have compulsory voting like my own.

Wow, really? Where is that? I've got mixed feelings on it, but the idea of compulsory voting is interesting.

Dastardly:

Wow, really? Where is that? I've got mixed feelings on it, but the idea of compulsory voting is interesting.

Not sure where latenightapplpie is from, but in my little country of Singapore, voting is compulsory. And if you vote for the opposition, you may or may not run the risk of being unable to get a job as a civil servant.

gloo:

Dastardly:

Wow, really? Where is that? I've got mixed feelings on it, but the idea of compulsory voting is interesting.

Not sure where latenightapplpie is from, but in my little country of Singapore, voting is compulsory. And if you vote for the opposition, you may or may not run the risk of being unable to get a job as a civil servant.

That sounds like a conflict of interest to me.

OT: It could work, if they got a company like Valve to make games that educate, it'd probably turn out for the best.

Drop_D-Bombshell:
This seems at least somewhat promising to get gaming into the modern world without any of those pressure groups whining like a bitch. I just hope the White House gives a thumbs up to gaming, it would put a lot off of videos games.

That's funny. I was thinking that it was promising to get the government into the modern world.
Honestly, I'd rather play a game about Western Expansion than hear my 9th grade teacher read to me out of the text book. But I think these games would probably be used more for training rather than public edu.

Government views on games that aren't retarded? Huzzah!

Even as a gamer I have to admit that people who just do nothing but game are doing it wrong. However, in an ideal world the government would also recognise that even games that are meant primarily for entertainment can also teach some pretty deep stuff. But hey, progress is progress.

Screamarie:
Seems a little late considering Obama is probably gonna get booted out at the end of the year....

How's that? And i'm not just trying to mock your opinion, not really sure how the US election system works at that stage. All I do know is that I've seen plenty of the media coverage of the Republican guys lately, and if any of them are his only opposition come election time I don't think he's got much to worry about.

He may not be particularly popular, but those guys are embarrassing. Are there other people he may have to run against as well?

They forgot 'It makes 12-year olds think war is cool'

Dastardly:

Wow, really? Where is that? I've got mixed feelings on it, but the idea of compulsory voting is interesting.

Australia, in both state and federal elections. And I think it works. People don't technically have to vote for anyone, but they do have to turn up to the polling station and sign off. Most people obviously sign off and then vote normally, but many sign off and then 'donkey vote'.

If you sign off, then the government won't track you down and fine you. They don't care how you fill out the form, or whether you do at all, but you have to turn up. On the day itself, or at an early voting booth if you are going to be busy on the day.

I've worked as a election official in a state election (the most recent one in Victoria, actually) and counting the votes at the end, there are plenty of pissed-off people who write obscenities in protest. We don't count the votes as protest ones though, just whether they are valid or invalid.

The_root_of_all_evil:
If they really thought games were educational, how come Schwarzenegger's bill got so far?

It was actually Leland Yee's bill. It got so far because of the "WON'T SOMEONE THINK OF THE CHILDREN" argument.

A big part of the problem, to my mind at least, is that most of the educational games I've seen are things like "And now, you have to defeat the monsters--- with MATH!"

Wheeeeeee.

It doesn't seem like it should be that difficult to combine education with games in ways that aren't so stilted and obvious; in fact, I wonder if part of the problem is designers having to have things they can point to and explain to non-gamers when they ask "so, what's educational about this"? You can teach vocabulary by having characters use words in context, for example, or "money math" by requiring the hero to actually choose coins and bills to buy things. When education is tied into uses of learning that students can actually identify and relate to, it's a lot less onerous to learn.

latenightapplepie:

Dastardly:

Wow, really? Where is that? I've got mixed feelings on it, but the idea of compulsory voting is interesting.

Australia, in both state and federal elections. And I think it works. People don't technically have to vote for anyone, but they do have to turn up to the polling station and sign off. Most people obviously sign off and then vote normally, but many sign off and then 'donkey vote'.

If you sign off, then the government won't track you down and fine you. They don't care how you fill out the form, or whether you do at all, but you have to turn up. On the day itself, or at an early voting booth if you are going to be busy on the day.

I've worked as a election official in a state election (the most recent one in Victoria, actually) and counting the votes at the end, there are plenty of pissed-off people who write obscenities in protest. We don't count the votes as protest ones though, just whether they are valid or invalid.

Quite interesting stuff... I think it's alright, myself. If you compel people to show up and voice an opinion, you're going to get the finger from a few... but some on-the-fencers might bother to actually FORM an opinion. And what's more, you put accountability on the people. There are too many of us Americans who don't bother voting, but then complain about the incumbent for the next four years.

Callate:
... I wonder if part of the problem is designers having to have things they can point to and explain to non-gamers when they ask "so, what's educational about this"? You can teach vocabulary by having characters use words in context, for example, or "money math" by requiring the hero to actually choose coins and bills to buy things. When education is tied into uses of learning that students can actually identify and relate to, it's a lot less onerous to learn.

I think the issue with this is that, in the cases you're talking about, learning is a side effect of the gaming process. There's simply not the time or resources to build instruction around "learning as a side-effect."

It goes back to my belief (as a teacher) that games are nice little diversions that are useful on "slow days," or for easing the tedium of drilling. It's still simple fact that the best way to learn your multiplication tables is rote memorization. And, due to how our brains work, the path to memorization is repetition. A game can make that repetition a bit less tedious... but it can't teach multiplication in any special way.

I'm always afraid of entering discussions on articles like these because of massive, intimidating posts that I have to sit there and break down.

Instead, I'll just point out that I found it very cool that one of her credentials is former "MMO Guild leader".

DaHero:

Monkeyman O'Brien:
Oh it is election season already? Man how time flies when you don't give a damn.

My thoughts exactly lol. This is one time we need to just let it go, Obama is doing nothing more than trying to drum up election votes for gamers.

Yeah, it's a brilliant sham to get votes. Attract the minorities and enrage the majority of the voters. I'm sure this will make him win the election.

The_root_of_all_evil:
If they really thought games were educational, how come Schwarzenegger's bill got so far?

Because the White House doesn't have control over the laws California tries to pass?

Dastardly:
I think the issue with this is that, in the cases you're talking about, learning is a side effect of the gaming process. There's simply not the time or resources to build instruction around "learning as a side-effect."

It goes back to my belief (as a teacher) that games are nice little diversions that are useful on "slow days," or for easing the tedium of drilling. It's still simple fact that the best way to learn your multiplication tables is rote memorization. And, due to how our brains work, the path to memorization is repetition. A game can make that repetition a bit less tedious... but it can't teach multiplication in any special way.

With a very few exceptions (such as typing!) I don't think video games are likely to be a good replacement for classroom time on most subjects.

But I think it is well within the realm of possibility to make games that are entertaining enough that students would be willing to play them during times not explicitly devoted to learning that still contribute to students' education.

As someone who grew up with (and actually loved playing) games like Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego, Number Muncher and Oregon Trail in my school, I really don't see a problem with this. Educational games can work and can work extremely well, not only as educational tools but also as, you know, fun games. There's no reason this sort of thing should not be getting more funding and attention. Plus, it will benefit games on the whole.

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