James Paul Gee describes video games as a set of problems that must be solved in order to win. The difference here is that these problems are presented in many instances in an environment designed to motivate and immerse/engage the learner in the experience.
Two games I have played recently: The Last of US and Shadow of Mordor have really strong narratives that have made me think about the way in which players learn the mechanics of various games in order to successfully complete it. In The Last of Us for instance the player is thrust right into the story without being necessarily being told what to do. Through trial and error and some occasional hints you figure out various gameplay mechanics. From an educational perspective its a very constructivist approach to learning; players are allowed to explore with enough scaffolding provided through other characters within the game or on screen hints that nudge the player in the right direction. In Shadow of Mordor the choices players makes determines how the game plays out. Its built in such a way that each different player is likely to have a completely unique experience from anyone else. The interesting thing about this to me is the manner in which skills are taught without disengaging from the experience. A lot of older video games usually came packaged with manuals or a training module/stage where the player would learn particular skills and try them out before playing the actual game. I much prefer the more recent approach which lets you learn while actually progressing through the story.
Recently a colleague and I had a conversation about different web resources that are available to learn CSS and HTML and the general consensus was that we both preferred resources that intertwined learning with the actual building of something. I think this is what some games are doing really well right now. By immersing players in the the story in such a way that the learning and acquisition of skill happens seamlessly as the player progresses through the story. I read an article a while back describing how Minecraft players were learning to program through play. What is especially interesting is the fact that teachers were taking advantage of the immersive nature of the game to teach learners various programming skills. Another game Elegy for a Dead World, requires players to write poetry while exploring various planets and civilizations. The completion of each stage layers can publish and share their work with other players.
Nicholas Trepanier at the University of Mississippi teaches a course which requires students to play a few historically themed video games like Assassins Creed and Total War while they read academic articles related to the period or topic that is central to the game. In this class the articles and students experiences in the video game serve as the foundation for discussions/debates about history. Really cool stuff!
So for the future I’m excited to see what games are available and how educators take these existing games and use them to provide rich and engaging learning experiences for students.