Games are increasingly social. Whether they involve teams jointly accomplishing missions, asynchronous collaboration over social networks, or sourcing advice from interest-driven communities to help solve tricky challenges, games may naturally drive peer-to-peer and peer-to-mentor social interactions. We need to test whether such social interaction can be a boon for learning or simply a “time dump” for bored and disengaged youth.
Development of Twenty-First-Century Skills
Good games are complex. Whether it is a 5-year-old parsing a Pokemon card or a 15-year-old building in SimCity, games can foster critical skills such as problem-solving, critical thinking, creativity, collaboration, and systems thinking (Gee, 2007). Given that many of the jobs that will emerge in the twenty-first century have not yet been invented, these skills are particularly important. Will the current push to deeper “common core” standards be aligned with the unique affordances of digital games to personalize and assess skills, knowledge, and perspectives?
Although many good models are beginning to be scaled up, a significant gap exists between the promise of game-based learning and the current reality. This gap is especially evident in transforming games from effective research trials into financially sustainable products that can reach and affect students through either formal or informal channels. To help close this gap, the Joan Ganz Cooney Center has recently undertaken a major project with the support of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. The Games and Learning Publishing Council has conducted a business-market analysis (Richards et al., 2013), video documentation studies of effective models (Millstone, 2012b), and a national survey of teachers to understand market dynamics, practitioner perspectives, and areas of innovation that are ready for scaling up (Millstone, 2012a). The council is releasing, on an ongoing basis, other market and policy analyses, along with research-based resources such as a new game and learning website for researchers, entrepreneurs, practitioners, and funders.
To increase the capacity of researchers and industry to address the issues raised here, we join others in calling for more robust investments in research. Most R&D is provided by the government—the Department of Defense, the Department of Education, the National Science Foundation (NSF), and the National Institutes of Health (NIH) all support game-based experimental research. However, it is unevenly distributed and highly fragmented, and it lacks shared research priorities or mechanisms to foster interagency coordination and collaboration. The Federal Games Working Group led by the White House Office on Science and Technology Policy has made progress in establishing a mechanism for interagency collaboration, planning and data sharing that should help guide future programs for research and development. As research advances, we need to know more precisely what is being done in the field: government should regularly publish inventories that track what research is being funded and by which agencies.