Tag Archives: Video Games

Play Video Games for Well-Being

I have been a (video) gamer since childhood. I played pong on a friend’s television. We got Atari one year for Christmas… my consoles evolved from there. Videogames specifically have been demonized over the years. Often attributed to violent or anti-social behavior. However, videogames are often incorrectly targeted. I loved this recent episode from the podcast Note to Self: Play Video Games for your Mental Health.

Featuring research Jane McGonigal, the episode focuses on the positive benefits of playing video games. Namely, honing your ability to work collaboratively, develop grit, creative problem solving, and stimulating positive feelings in your brain. If you are concerned about a child’s focus on video games, give this podcast a listen. It might change the way you think!

“ClassRealm” – Turning the Sixth Grade into a Video Game

A good friend of mine, knowing my affinity for educational technology and gaming, sent me a link to this amazing story about a teacher who turned his sixth grade class into an MMO termed “Classrealm.” I have written about learning as a “game” in my article, “Learning is an Epic Win – Jane McGonigal.” The idea of applying concepts of game theory to learning is not entirely new, but its application has been challenging and problematic. This article on Kataku highlights how a passionate teacher did just that by creating an RPG/MMO element game in his classroom titled “Classrealm.” The rules of Classrealm were as follows:

1. ClassRealm is completely voluntary. If you don’t want to participate you don’t have to.

2. XP is the backbone of ClassRealm. Every 10 XP you earn pushes you to the next level. Every one starts at level 1.

3. XP can be obtained by doing simple things such as:

• Answering questions

• Joining in class discussion

• Working hard on an assignment

• Helping others

• Participation in general

• Random Encounter Friday (explained below)

• Gaining achievements (explained below)

4. Achievements are gained by completing specific tasks. For example: a student can obtain the “Bookworm” achievement by reading two unassigned chapter books and explaining the plot and characters to me.

5. Each achievement has four levels — bronze, silver, gold, and master. Each level is harder to reach than the one below it.

6. Boys are pitted against girls. The gender that can acquire the most achievements by the end of the year will win extra recess and an ice cream party during lunch.

7. Each Friday will be Random Encounter Friday. Every one who wants to battle will put their name in a hat. I will draw out two names and they will battle. Students will be asked a question. I will repeat the question twice and then start battle music. The first to write the correct answer on the board and put their hands up will win XP. You can only answer once. Question subjects are chosen at random.

8. Students may join in alliances of up to six ClassRealm citizens. The alliance with the highest combined level at the end of the year wins a pizza party.

9. All info, except for the current amount of XP each student has, will be listed online and in the classroom for students and parents to see.

During the one week experiment, Ben Bertoli (the teacher) highlighted the rapid change in attitude experienced by his students.

“I had students I never heard from volunteering to answer questions they didn’t even know the answer to. Students who normally wouldn’t even care were going out of their way to get XP from class participation. Every one of my students pushed themselves to focus during the day’s assignments and behave. One student, who earned a bronze level achievement, was even applauded by the entire class. It blew my mind.” – Ben Bertoli

While the experiment lasted only one week (long-term application has not yet been explored), it demonstrates how game theory can be effectively applied in a classroom environment, promoting enthusiasm, excitement, good behavior, cooperation, and thinking outside of the traditional box of education. To learn more about this experience, see the article in Kotaku: “How One Teacher Turned Sixth Grade into an MMO” and “Ben Bertoli’s ClassRealm is Gamifying the Classroom” in Wired.

“Learning is an Epic Win” – Jane McGonigal

The last speaker of the conference is the one for whom I’ve been most excited to watch speak: Jane McGonigal. As a gamer (and a female gamer at that), it’s a direct connection and inspiration for me. One need only speak to me for a few minutes to know that I’m an avid player of World of Warcraft and an owner of all current gaming platforms.

She is one of the most profound game developers and theorists in the world. If you really want to see what she is all about, check out her TED talk:


She is also the author of the book Reality is Broken: Why Games Make us Better and how They can Change the World. Her argument is that games help children to develop the skills and concepts necessary to solve real world problems. Games are not a distraction from reality, but rather help us to engage in the world.

“The opposite of play isn’t work – it’s depression.”

When students engage in game play, they don’t fear failure or concern themselves with their abilities (or inabilities) to master new concepts and abilities. In fact, gamers have a number of positive emotional reactions to game play:

  • joy
  • relief
  • love
  • surprise
  • pride
  • curiosity
  • excitement
  • awe & wonder
  • contentment
  • creativity

Most game play today is social and cooperative – it requires us to interact positively with those around us. Games provide us a creative agency in the virtual world. Those of us from the ‘gamer generation’ realize that games have evolved into more than just the ‘button mashing’ elements of previous generations. They now engage the user, require creativity, collaboration, thought, and multi-tasking. To demonstrate this to us, she had us get together and do a massive group thumb-war! Check out the video posted by my blogging colleague Chris BigenhoTeachers Playing Thumb War

She spent a good chunk of her talk discussing the myths and realities of game playing. That gamers (even those playing violent video games) scored much higher on the creativity quotient than non-gamers. Gaming provides “positive stress” – you’re engaged, invested, determined, persevered, immersion, etc. When it comes to games, users fail… all the time (no one sits down and wins right away). However, they stay engaged and invested – sometimes for hours.

Games provide to their consumers:

  • Blissful productivity – we stay determined and work on a task even if the goal is far off
  • Urgent Optimism – we keep going even if we fail (80% of the time)
  • Social Fabric – playing games with others forms relationships (games with strangers, friends, & family)
  • Epic Meaning – desire to do something that matters, be a hero, be of service, be involved with a goal

She asserted that gamers who play ten hours of games or more a week ultimately bring these qualities into their real lives – they want to be of service to others, objectively plan, an be involved in something greater than themselves.

She highlighted the program: Quest to Learn, a school designed around the concepts of game development. The children do not play games all day (rather much the opposite). Instead, the theory, concepts, and ideas are based around game development theory. The focus becomes mastery and competence rather than performance.

This changes the focus from rote memorization and achievement and rather on mastery of content and development of skills.

Another example she provided is an online game called “Fold It” that focuses on the concepts of protein folding. The game allows users of all levels to intricately fold proteins to help to develop ideas and solutions pertaining to ailments related to protein folding. The gamers were so successful, that they published an article in Nature.

“When Scientists fail, it’s time to call in the gamers!”

She ended by demonstrating how gamers have been engaged to solve real world problems around the world. For example, she helped develop a game called Evoke that focuses on solving world water shortage issues:

You can check out the game online here. This game (and others like it) required that individuals think about how to solve these issues and present real-world solutions. It also included real-world tasks that you had to complete in order to progress in the game. She spoke about the fact that as the game grew – they brought in gamers from around the world. Thus, the players started to engage and play with individuals from around the world. Additionally, a number of children actually developed (and received funding) for various ventures that they developed in the game.

The last game that she spoke about was one that she had developed for the New York Public Library. The game preview is here:

You had to engage in eight levels of game play to achieve victory and left a lasting (physical) impression at the library itself by writing a book in the process. You could be in the library to play the game, but anyone can play the game from anywhere in the world. 500 young people stayed up all night and actively engaged, collaborated, and competed to complete this game. At the end of the night, they completed a book with over 1,100 declarations of how they would make the world a better place.

So, “Can games teach us to save the real world?” The answer – YES! If you want to get more information on this talk, drop an email to: slides@avantgame.com and you will get “10 practical ways to bring gamer superpowers to the classroom.”

The Gates Foundation Investing $20m for Game Based Learning

The Gates foundation has just announced that it will be investing $20 million for game-based learning. The money will make available to any teacher who wishes to use social network or web based games in the classroom.

Education Week announced this gift in this article.