I’ve previously written about the need for better integration of technology in the education system, as well as the technological transformation of the classroom environment. I’ve been outspoken before saying that schools could be far more modern, but I’d like to dig into that concept a bit more and specifically examine the benefits of simulation and gaming from a learning perspective.
Games design has obviously advanced significantly from the early days of Pong and the like. In recent times, the advent of open world sandboxes and proliferation of multiplayer and connected gameplay has added layers of complex systems that can easily threaten to overwhelm any newcomers. And yet, children intuitively grasp these mechanically complex entities with ease, nimbly transition from game to game. Part of that is the simple fact that we often underestimate our kids’ intelligence. But another significant factor is that game designers have become masterful at easing new players into their gameplay without bashing them over the head with overt hand holding.
Minecraft, the phenomenally best-selling title, is a perfect example. A three-dimensional sandbox game with no specific goals for the player to accomplish, it’s a self-directed experience where players can break and place blocks to alter the game world and create anything they please. It combines deep spatial and physics-based systems with resource collection, item crafting, architectural design and construction, a robust achievement system, a dynamic day and night game world with numerous non-player populations, cooperative and competitive multiplayer, and more.
The magic, however, lies in its accessibility. This, coupled with the game’s inherent popularity, meant that Minecraft was quickly adopted by teachers as an impromptu tool to teach everything from mathematical concepts like ratios and proportions to history and collaboration. Since its initial release in 2009, its usefulness as a teaching tool has developed so much that Microsoft (Minecraft’s publisher) has productised a version specifically for education - Minecraft: Education Edition. It comes with course curriculums, mentor support for teachers, and assets and “levels” for specific subjects including chemistry and coding.
Beyond this, there are additional companies like TeacherGaming from Finnland that focus on how to integrate gaming technology into the classroom. Cities: Skylines is being used as an educational game that lets students experience the headaches, planning issues and complex budget balancing and policy creation of building a city. By playing the game, children can play the role of a politician, architect, or city planner and actually create a realistic city. Considering that Cities: Skylines has been used to develop an urban zone in Stockholm, there’s amazing potential to use these tools as a means of transitioning classroom learning to real-world application.
There’s a whole host of games designed with the classroom in mind, but there are also teachers who are taking the future of education into their own hands and helping us to see the reality of the powerful technologies we have. The repurposing of existing games for educational purposes is a massively positive development and an interesting focus for the industry - a whole new market essentially. I’m keenly interested in how we can build these benefits out for the studios, developers, teachers, and children.
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