Place-Based Video Games Could Transform Education

    by Leslie Rule
    February 11, 2008

    After reading Paul Grabowicz’s post Why Journalists Should Develop Video Games, I thought I’d chime in and riff off of that statement and ask: What is the value of video games in education, formal and informal, and in the delivery of information.

    Paul makes great point about who determines perspective. In my field of digital storytelling, we often talk about what I call “the fading glory of the third person editorial overlay.” Just look at community-created content; it’s a form whose hallmark is the lack of editorial overlay, which may or may not be appropriate, but often the lack of distance between the story and the storyteller (first-person vs. third-person) is what makes stories so profound. This lack of distance is especially relevant when cultural understanding play an intricate role in the story.

    Video games that use real places as the gaming space are also referred to as Augmented Reality Games (ARG). These games are now finding their way into formal learning environments, at least as pilot projects. Acceptance is yet to come, but as we wait, I think we should leapfrog and head into the future we know is coming. I’d like to suggest we shepard the gaming environment from an online presence into a real world presence and develop place-based video games…and drag journalism kicking and screaming with it.


    Here is a video of an Augmented Reality Game. Created by HP for their mscape software, this game combines the world of gadgets, gaming software, and location-technologies. This video is a little frenetic for my taste (it was created for a gamer’s convention), but it is illustrative.

    Folks at Harvard, MIT and UW-Madison have been developing place-based video games played on mobile devices since 2004. These games are not only built for mobile devices, but they also use gps or other locative technologies. The great minds in education and pedagogy (especially Dewey and Friere) would find it difficult to comprehend the lunacy that is the foundation of our secondary educational system, but I suspect they could easily imagine using video games and mobile devices for learning.


    One aspect that often gets lost in the “gaming,” discussion is the fun and the openness to new situations that gaming allows. It’s easier to accept different ideas, to role-play, to create worlds that allow different options and to reflect on those options with a more open mind. The gaming space in the real world is open, it can be developed, an ecology can be built. This makes learning experiential and has the potential for deeper understanding.

    A recent article, Mobile Phone, not PC, Bridges Digital Gap by Mark Dean, Vice-President of the IBM Almaden Research Center and the man who is as much responsible for IBM PC as anyone, says he is “confident that the PC age is drawing to a close. Connectivity trumps processing power in this new era.” While he spoke specifically of Africa (mobile phone growth has gone from 10 million in 200 million in the last 4 years), I can’t help believe connectivity will also equal, if not trump, processing power here. Even here, the next generation is demanding innovative ways to deliver information that is contextual and moves with them. And if they aren’t, well, they will be. I’d lay cash on the grave of McCluhan that gps-enabled devices will start determining content any day now. And it won’t just be the content, or the delivery mechanism, it will be how much of that content is located and is participatory.

    Such is great news for those of us who believe that connecting content to place is a form of geo-culture that will reinvigorate the places we inhabit, the information we gather and share, and the stories we tell.

    Tagged: Augmented Reality Games informal education locative media Mark Dean

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