[Paleopsych] VV: Will more professors develop video games for their classes?

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Will more professors develop video games for their classes?
    by Rachel Aviv
    January 11th, 2005 12:05 PM

    On Martin Luther King Day in 2002, the West Virginia-based white-power
    group known as National Alliance came out with Ethnic Cleansing, a
    video game for neo-Nazis and similarly deranged Americans. A beefy
    white character dressed in Klan robes darts around a city slaying
    "sub-humans," who, upon collapsing, whimper little death-ditties
    ranging from "Oy vey!" to "I'll take a siesta now." In the background,
    plans for world domination and inspirational hints like "Diversity,
    It's Good for Jews" are pasted on subway walls and street lamps.

    Ethnic Cleansing doesn't just indulge such fantasies, but meticulously
    teaches the specifics of its worldview (why we should kill, who we
    should kill, and the history of white "victimization") through
    repetition, hands-on participation, and a series of escalating
    challenges. The natural instructive potential of video gamescurrently
    enjoyed by mostly religious and military groupshas caught the
    attention of educators willing to try anything that gets a student to
    become obsessive about mastering a system of thought. As James Gee, a
    professor at the University of Wisconsin and author of What Video
    Games Have to Teach Us About Learning and Literacy (Palgrave
    Macmillan, 2003), sees it, Ethnic Cleansing is a persuasive example of
    how games can be used to convey ideological messages. "Modern video
    games are profoundly motivating, certainly much more so than
    textbooks," he tells the Voice. "They're about taking on an identity,
    making choices and looking at the world a certain way. We can only
    hope that people with better philosophies than the National Alliance
    make some games. What about the worldview of a scientist?"

    Recently a handful of professors across the country have developed
    video games for their classrooms that dramatize science, history,
    politics, and even literature. At MIT, a group of scholars and
    software designersleaders in the Microsoft-funded Games-to-Teach
    projectdesigned 15 prototypes for college use. In Sole Survivor, an
    Intro to Psych game, students experiment on a series of depressed,
    psychotic, or otherwise dysfunctional individuals in order to save the
    world from "evil leaders of a Planetary Alliance." Prospero's Island,
    a lit-crit simulation being designed in collaboration with the Royal
    Shakespeare Company, has players work through Tempest-specific
    metaphors by completing tasksfeeding junipers to Caliban (for
    increased sex and strength), or literally climbing the waterfall of
    Prospero's tears.

    So far, the only design used with any real frequency (or that has
    significant funding) is Environmental Detectives, a game about
    toxicology that, according to the publicity material, "combines the
    dramatic appeal of Erin Brockovich with the pedagogical value of
    inquiry-based learning." A digitalized quest for the source of a
    "mystery" chemical spill, E.D. has been used in about 14 courses, the
    majority of them at Harvard and MIT. Games-to-Teach designers hope
    that more classrooms will adopt not only the game, but the obsessive
    video game culturein particular, the lack of stigma surrounding

    But even for profs who agree that their teaching methods could use a
    technological update, video games are still financially forbidding,
    not to mention conceptually loony. According to Edward Castronova, a
    professor at the University of Indiana (and author of the forthcoming
    Synthetic Worlds), "At this point, saying to an English professor,
    'Why don't you teach this course with a video game?' is kind of like
    saying, 'Why don't you teach this course with a basketball?' "

    A self-described "academic failure," Castronova once wrote an
    economics paper in which he computed the gross national product per
    capita of the fantasy land in Sony's EverQuest, declaring it the 77th
    richest nation in the world. He is part of a burgeoning community of
    professors who rely on dreamy, digital netherworlds to convey course
    materialeach one describing their class as the "first of its kind."

    At Northern Illinois University, Stephen Haliczer, a proud "apostle of
    interactivity," designed a simulation, "Surviving the Inquisition,"
    for his online course "Witchcraft, Heresy, Criminality, and Social
    Control in Modern Europe." Students play a converted Jew who is tried
    by an Inquisitor and then tortured, absolved, or burned at the stake.

    "It was a blast," says Michael Spires, a grad student in Haliczer's
    seminar in 2003. "The standard image that most non-historians have of
    the Inquisition is that it was run by terribly vicious and oppressive
    people, but that is really not the case. When you play, you seeif you
    had any wits about you, you could game the system."

    Wary of misrepresenting history, most humanities professors who have
    experimented with digital simulations have done it in slightly tamer
    contexts, where the gamer mentality can co-opt the academic lesson
    without any major distortion. The U.S. Congress simulation LegSim (now
    being used at more than 10 schools, including SUNY Geneseo, Brown, and
    the University of Oklahoma) allows students to operate their own
    virtual legislaturedrafting bills, "meeting" in committee, and voting
    online. The New School is developing a similar kind of political
    digi-world called Swing Statesundergrads will play a Republican or
    Democratic presidential candidate, fighting to win an election.

    Although New York schools haven't designed many curricular games, the
    city has pushed ahead in a slightly different field"meaningful
    content" games, which promote social and political awareness. Last
    June, a trio of New York-based nonprofits (NetAid, a U.N. organization
    that fights world poverty; Global Kids, Inc., a leadership group for
    urban youth; and Web Lab, a new-media think tank) hosted a conference
    called "Serious Issues, Serious Games" to explore ways of using
    digital playthings to "advance society." Out of the conference emerged
    Games for Change, an interest group that has already worked with a
    number of pristine simulations where "winning" involves successfully
    dealing with issues like AIDS, poverty, and racial profiling.

    For educators, games are not only a catchy way to appeal to the
    otherwise bored and twitchy, but also a concrete embodiment of
    pedagogical theories about interactive, student-based learning. Unlike
    the usual proponents of vague and utopian teaching methods, those
    intellectually invested in video games feel a sense of inevitability
    about their project: Games have already outsold the Hollywood box
    office. According to Suzanne Seggerman, co-director of Games for
    Change, they will easily worm their way into the academy, just as film
    did 30 years ago.

    "Using video games as a learning tool is newborn, squirmy, and barely
    formed," she says. "But it's only a matter of time. Talk to me in 10
    years. We'll all be playing."

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   10. http://www.villagevoice.com/arts/0502,tuhus-dubrow,59940,12.html
   11. http://www.villagevoice.com/arts/0502,dayal,59938,12.html
   12. http://www.villagevoice.com/arts/0502,lagorio,59937,12.html
   13. http://www.villagevoice.com/arts/0502,edlist,59936,12.html
   14. http://www.villagevoice.com/arts/0502,winter,59908,12.html

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