I enjoyed an incredible lunch Monday sponsored by The Sprout Fund with Nikki Navta of Zulama and Todd Keruskin of Elizabeth Forward School District at spoke at a lunch & learn at Sprout offices today about their experience at the Games for Change Festival earlier this summer. Keynotes and presentations from the festival are online. I found the news Nikki and Todd shared and the few presentations I’ve watched online to be one of those jaw dropping glimpses into the future (and the great pioneers of the present!) that makes me marvel in the times we are living.
The game developers and educators gathered for this festival were committed to engaging the thalamus of students, that part of our brain that regulates how alert and aroused we are, of engaging the thalamus to make learning more sticky and to make every student more engaged in learning. These developers are rejecting chocolate covered broccoli games, that is using technology to just reprocess “Boring Teacher Syndrome,” rather they are looking for ways to engage students in meaningful narratives in which the mechanics of math, science, language and history are experienced as byproducts of a full participative immersion into a gaming reality. The “Big G” games establish a virtual affinity space where people collaborate with others on shared activities, interests, and goals, for example gather with others around the globe for conventions, wikis, creating software to analyze performance, mash up videos to share on YouTube, participate in forums about the game, write fanfic (where they create fiction that goes beyond yet integrated with the story line of the virtual world).
Nikki mentioned that a common theme of immersion in the new gaming forums being built. Dave Pentecost introduced using Unity 3D software and a fisheye lens (free download) to bring a 3 dimensional gaming experience into domes (imagine going to the planaterium, having all the seats removed, and interacting with game elements in 3D before you using Kinect sensors in the dome and an EEG controlled headset. There were demos in the Festival’s Awards Arcade! TheBlu.com was another new gaming experience, an incredible online world of individually created oceanographic life, bringing together the work of thousands of graphic artists (for example, I can use media maker to create my own reality based representation of a moon jellyfish that others can download as an app and place in their blu that supports conservation efforts). I’ve already downloaded as a screensaver – absolutely gorgeous! My son Ian, watching some of the presentation keynotes in the background, was agog with excitement over the possibilities of using Valve software to create his own portal environments, particularly with AP Physics coming in the fall.
Todd’s vision as an educator opened my eyes to see that video game design is not simply some elective program running down the hall with the technology teacher. He told the group gathered for the lunch, “The days of teaching Microsoft Word and PowerPoint and keyboarding at the high school level are over.” Conference presenters shared stories of journalists not merely needed the skills to write an article about current events, but quickly create online games that communicate the news through interactive puzzles, stories of historians not merely writing a book about the latest in archeology, but creating a 3D domed experience of cave art, stories of emergency workers developing games that make earthquake safety lessons memorable. I am teaching a theology class at Duquesne this fall. I’ve added to the syllabus the option to use Game Salad to make an app for one of the portfolio assignments. I’ll let you know if any of the college freshman take advantage of the option!
Thank you to the Sprout Fund for making it possible for Nikki and Todd to attend the conference and the forum to share their experiences. Pittsburgh has some of the leading voices of this digital wave of games for change: CMU’s Entertainment Technology Center, Nikki Navta’s Zulama,Todd Keruskin Entertainment Technology Academy in the Elizabeth Forward School District, Jesse Schell at Schell Games. Kudos for their efforts to create games that are well defined problems, games that we are highly motivated to solve, games whose side effects include conceptual and meta understandings, games that prepare us for future learning and set the foundation for situated understanding.