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Play to Learn

This has been a recurring theme I heard about in the past couple of years. First from Clark Quinn who was working on a way to teach using games. Then from Werner Schaer, a friend of mine, who brought to my attention the research on Playing To Learn. I came across this article today on Dream Machines when I was reading a blog on Innovation Weblog.

As we play, we learn. And as we grow, our play gets more complicated. We add rules and goals. The result is something we call games.Now an entire generation has grown up with a different set of games than any before it – and it plays these games in different ways. Just watch a kid with a new videogame. The last thing they do is read the manual. Instead, they pick up the controller and start mashing buttons to see what happens. This isn’t a random process; it’s the essence of the scientific method. Through trial and error, players build a model of the underlying game based on empirical evidence collected through play. As the players refine this model, they begin to master the game world. It’s a rapid cycle of hypothesis, experiment, and analysis. And it’s a fundamentally different take on problem-solving than the linear, read-the-manual-first approach.

The positive aspects of gaming – creativity, community, self-esteem, problem-solving – are somehow less visible to nongamers.

But the Internet has morphed what we used to think of as a fancy calculator into a fancy telephone with email, chat groups, IM, and blogs. It turns out that we don’t use computers to enhance our math skills – we use them to expand our people skills.

Think about the impact of including games as a part of the curriculum. You do not have to coax the students to do homework any more.

More games now include features that let players invent some aspect of their virtual world, from characters to cars. And more games entice players to become creative partners in world building, letting them mod its overall look and feel. The online communities that form around these imaginative activities are some of the most vibrant on the Web. For these players, games are not just entertainment but a vehicle for self-expression.

This is changing the field of game design. About a couple of years ago, I heard two game designers speak at Accelerating Change Conference in Stanford.