Epic win... An outcome that is so extraordinarily positive you had no idea it was even possible until you achieved it. - Jane McGonigal
The anti-gaming bias is ridiculously strong, not just in education but in the community as a whole. Video games are seen at best as mindless entertainment, at worst as triggers for violent antisocial behaviour. It’s hard for people to see the educational value, and that’s understandable.
To the outside observer, video games seem passive and mindless. We don’t know much about the learning potential of these games because there’s very little research being done on the educational merits of this style of play - it’s hard to collect reliable data, they’re not used in the classroom and teachers don’t play video games.
And there’s another important reason why people can’t get onboard with the idea that video games can be a learning tool - the name. The term ‘video games’ was coined in the days when kids stood around arcades, pumping machines full of quarters for the chance to shoot an alien, help a frog across the street or dodge a barrel-throwing ape. Today’s games are so much more than this.
Not only that, the variety of games is enormous and yet all fall under the same 'video game' umbrella. The uber-violent misogynistic shoot-em-ups are grouped together with kid-friendly adventure sandboxes (Minecraft) and content creators (Scratch). The term ‘educational games’ is reserved for subject-specific software like Math Blaster and Mavis Beacon, where learning is the overt primary goal and play comes second.
But this is old school thinking.
The new breed of games like Minecraft are stimulating and learning-rich environments. Kids don’t just sit back and play pre-designed content as it's presented to them, they invent worlds and solve problems. And the learning doesn't just happen inside the game. They're motivated to go off and read about physics so they can make the game more fun, and inspired to pick up a pencil to sketch out their designs on graph paper. The learning comes through play, not ahead of it.
Kids are eagerly embracing this style of gaming, but we’re not yet taking advantage of that and harnessing its power as an educational tool. In order to do that we need to break down the anti-gaming attitude, so we can really start to talk about how and why this form of learning might be enriching for our kids.
And that starts with a new way of talking about this style of play. But if ‘video games’ is no longer appropriate, then what is? Anything with ‘computer’ in it sounds dated, and ‘online’ is limiting.
I like the term e-play (electronic play). It stems from a discussion in the comments section of this post by Penelope Trunk, where we talked about the limiting and negative connotations of 'video games' and the change that can come from having the right words to describe your experience.
And our experience with using e-play for learning is definitely an epic win.