In our last podcast (episode 1) we talked about Jane McGonigal’s TED talk, her new book Reality Is Broken: Why Games Make Us Better and How They Can Change the World, and her work in serious games. McGonigal claims that we need to spend more time rather than less time gaming. But she wants us to do the right kind of gaming. The kind that teaches us to be better people, to fix our broken reality. I am the first to jump on that bandwagon. I think that a lot can be said for changing the world through gaming…for certain folks. I think that certain kinds of folks will play EVOKE and World Without Oil (WWO). Those would be folks that are already predisposed to make a change. It’s kind of like preaching to the converted. For years we’ve been reading about and building game based pedagogies on the existence of a gaming grammar that exists between games and the belief that some of what gets learned in the playing of these games can be carried over into real life. McGonigal is running with it. She wants to capitalize on the adrenaline rush of gaming and use it to get people not only to learn some small thing, but to change their entire lives.
Now call me a bit of a skeptic (I freely admit it), but I can’t see how this would work for people who aren’t already invested in the making of the change in the first place. Who you might ask wouldn’t want to conserve energy? Well there are the crackpots who think that global warming doesn’t exist. I fully recognize that using games and the principles of games in education helps to keep students engaged and may ultimately help them learn overall they are invested in the process from the beginning. Our students don’t just value our classes because we play World of Warcraft or add achievements and leader boards to our grading policies. They are playing the game because their grade is at stake. They may enjoy it in the meantime, but ultimately they have an ulterior motive.
When it comes down to it I’m not quite sure how games like EVOKE and WWO are different from old school edutainment games that were skills and drills thinly veiled in “fun”…very thinly. Don’t get me wrong, I want it to work. I want McGonigal to be right. I want to believe that we can get enough people playing games for enough hours a week to make real change in their lives and by extension the world. I just don’t think serious games are the answer in the same way that edutainment games have proven to not be the answer to a lack of academic engagement. If we really could harness the power of WoW and use WoW itself to make a change then I might be a bit more optimistic (especially with the 8 gazillion monthly subscribers who are currently shelling out 15 bucks a month to Blizzard), but right now? Not so much.