Games, Literacy and Opportunity

If there is one thing that playing Valiant Hearts: The Great War and Verdun: 1914–1918 has confirmed with me, it is that games live-up to their promise of immersiveness and embodiment extremely well. The process of designing games, with its multiple iterations and rapid prototyping, results in products that enable players to experience events like the First World War in a range of ways that sets them apart from other media. In an industry that now surpasses both music and movies, their popularity is a surprise to no one. Perhaps their effectiveness is more surprising.

Award Winning Learning Game: Valiant Hearts: The Great War

Games for learning do not share same scope of interest — especially when they are “imposed” onto students. This does not mean that they are bad, second rate or that teachers should not be using them. In fact, most teachers and students would be surprised at the educational value that they offer. I challenge anyone to play the two games mentioned and not be surprised and enthusiastic about the learning possibilities they envision after doing so.

Student Playing ARIS game: Dilemma 1944

So here is my question to myself: why invest my time and effort in designing a mobile game for the Vimy Centenary? Me — a neophyte gamer with zero programming skills and only a cursory understanding of game theory and design. My answer is that I get it. I see their value and potential for games in a wide range of educational applications and I recognize the possibilities they hold for learning in the future. Students today spend many hours of their waking days playing games. In the process, they share a cultural literacy that is foreign to most of the teaching generations who drive their education.

Younger generations are now hardwired for design and system thinking but we as teachers have limited resources to leverage these skills. Reading and writing texts will always be primary core literacies but the means by which people experience their lives will continue to change. Education will not be immune. In fact, teachers and researchers are important players in determining how these changes will take place.

Like it or not, games already dominate popular media. If you are still denying or ignoring this fact you have only to look at Virtual Reality (VR). The HTV Vive and Oculus Rift are the leading edge of goggle-like headsets released this Spring that will immerse you in other worlds, responding to your gaze and motions and making you respond to them. Virtual Reality and its senses-overlaying cousin, Augmented Reality (AR) are expected to disrupt the mobile market by $120 billion by as early as 2020 (Dig-Capital, 2016). This new technology will change many industries but the majority of VR applications will be in games.

Ten years from now or sooner, learning games that include Augmented and Virtual Reality will likely be as common place as the students who design them. New curricula should include the multi-literacies that are emerging from these and other new media and technologies.

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