Prensky (2011) outlines a compelling argument that research on the academic potential of video games is not worth doing if time and effort has not been spent on the development of high-quality instructional video games. Prensky suggests 10 criteria for assessing whether a game is “high quality.” A sample of characteristics includes (1) a balance between content to be learned and elements that engage learners to voluntarily participate in game play; (2) a correspondence between the teaching goal, the game’s goal, and the learner’s goal; (3) a high level of complexity (e.g., multiple goals, levels, and skills); (4) a built-in leveling-up process that requires the evaluation of learning or skills; (5) the ability to adapt to the learner’s successes and failures and make adjustments. Adaptivity is a particularly important feature of commercial entertainment games, and Prensky (2011) argues that it should be a critical component of instructional games. Many commercial games implement artificial intelligence programming to determine in real time whether a player’s performance indicates the need for scaffolding or additional challenges, and the game automatically changes in response to learner performance, much the way intelligent tutoring systems do (Anderson, Corbett, Koedinger, & Pelletier, 1995; VanLehn et al., 2005)

Prensky (2011) also describes 10 design principles that commercial games incorporate to create engaging game play. Many are relevant to learning scientific inquiry skills via game play. For example, making players heroes may not sound educationally relevant. However, players of River City take on the role of a researcher who must determine the cause of an outbreak of illness. Giving students goals in the context of role-playing as scientists or engineers may then contribute to identification with science and science learning. Similarly, the design principle to “make players decide and see the results” (p. 272) is a critical component of engagement in game play. Making decisions and receiving feedback are prototypically important parts of engaging in scientific inquiry activities (described in more detail, below). I direct the reader interested in further exploring this topic to Prensky (2001, 2011) and McGonigal (2011).

The take-away message is that any research program or individual study focused on using video games to scaffold academic skills in science must ensure that those games are of high quality and are engaging. N one of the following steps of a research agenda is relevant if an inadequate instructional game is incorporated into a science curriculum.

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