Why open-world gaming is the future of learning

By: Asha Kumar

The joy of open-world gaming

From the beloved 8-bit forests of T&E Soft’s gem Hydlide to the expansive post-apocalyptic Commonwealth of Bethesda’s Fallout 4 in VR, the concept of an open-world gaming environment has grown since its introduction in 1984 to become a hallmark of successful role-playing video games. Rather than forcing the player to complete a rigid set of tasks to progress in a linear fashion from one mission to the next, open-worlds in video games allow the player to explore and discover to his or her heart’s content and tackle a variety of quests at their own pace.

Source: T&E Soft’s Hydlide

Regardless of individual skill or interest in role-playing video games, one thing is for sure — the magic of open-world environments lies in their ability to bring a much-needed sense of personalization to games. Despite playing the same game, two players taking on an open-world game will likely never have the same experience, as the sheer amount of freedom presented in the open-world environment allows for countless different playthroughs, none of which being the definitive “right” or “wrong” way to play the game. Instead, open-world environments encourage players to understand their own strengths and weaknesses, as well as develop an individualized method of strategy.

The ability to traverse without limitations and use one’s strengths to complete even the most challenging quests certainly makes open-world environments an enticing aspect of video games, but the wonders of open-world gaming are indeed not restricted to the traditional gamer.

How does open-world gaming relate to education?

Well before a child enters the classroom setting, independent exploration and discovery are important aspects of the learning processes that takes place in her or his developing mind. A research study conducted at Brown University found that young children demonstrate higher accuracy in learning causal structures when they are allowed to engage with their environment independently first, rather than simply observing someone else complete a task and then participating in some form of interaction. Indeed, self-motivated exploration appears to play a key role in learning and development, as the process allows children to create more personal connections with their environments and the information they are actively processing.

Considering the heavy emphasis on personalized modes of discovery and interaction that is highlighted in open-world games, it appears that open-world environments have the ability to provide young students with the venue necessary to explore and learn at their own pace in an individualized manner. When interacting with an educational open-world game, students are essentially given the opportunity to take part in the organic discovery processes they should actively be engaging in as part of the learning experience.

Source: Hello Wonderful

Interactive play in the environment around a child is an important method of developing her or his understanding of the world, yet a student cannot feasibly explore historical settings, distant planets, or even subatomic particles the same way in which they explore the tangible, observable world … or can they? In an interactive gamified environment, a student can conduct meaningful exploration of anything from the rise of Cleopatra’s empire to the invention of the modern microchip, allowing her or him to engage in formative discovery on a previously unseen scale.

Perhaps the most important aspect of open-world gaming in education stems from the visual nature of video games as tools of instruction. Nearly 65% of the population consists of visual learners, or individuals who learn best by actively visualizing whatever material they encounter. While visual learners may struggle to keep pace with an oral lecture or discussion, they often succeed at more interactive tasks, leading video games to be a key educational tool for this population of students. By embracing the active and independent exploration that is encouraged in open-world gaming, both teachers and parents have the ability to create more effective methods of learning that are personalized to the individual learning style of each student.

Source: Ryan Farrell, Visual Content — The Key to Effective Brand Storytelling

Can we really use video games to teach?

While the mere idea of planting a young student in front of a video game with the expectation that he or she will learn about the pyramids of Giza, advanced Algebra, or the body’s circulatory system may seem far-fetched, teachers and researchers alike have praised video games as effective instructional tools that should be incorporated in classroom curricula. As Scientific American reports, schools such New York City’s Quest to Learn public school have already partnered with organizations like Institute of Play in order to implement game-friendly curricula centered around missions and goals that make self-motivated learning the norm for students. In particular, Quest to Learn not only uses video games to teach lessons, but also gives students the tools to learn about game design creation.

Perhaps using game technology to teach students about technology and game development seems counter-intuitive, but as Alan Gershenfeld, president of E-Line Media, noted in Scientific American, the careers that today’s students will pursue in the near future “will almost certainly … require some level of mastery of digital media and technology.” Whether a young student takes an interest in biology or economics, ample skills in technology are invaluable in any conceivable field and digital literacy is quickly becoming a must-have for all areas of the job market. Video games and other forms of technology are becoming a key aspect of the classroom experience with increasing popularity, indicating that innovation in the educational setting is both inevitable and more important now than ever before.

Source: This Week in Education

The use of video games in an instructional setting also allows for a much-needed deviation from cookie cutter Common Core standards that often fail to accurately capture the multitude of learning styles represented in the classroom. While standardized testing seems to emphasize the distinction between solutions that are inherently “right” or “wrong,” gamified educational tools stress the importance of the creative process behind a student’s response to a particular problem. With instant feedback and interaction mechanisms that are far removed from traditional black and white testing methods, video games have the potential to more accurately assess a student’s ability to think critically in a goal-oriented problem-solving scenario. As students tread the path to becoming the next generation of programmers, artists, scientists, and activists, they will need to employ these exact critical thinking skills in order to solve the most pressing issues of their time, from the cure for cancer to global climate change to the ethics of artificial intelligence.


Originally published at The Lux Science Blog.

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