Gaming isn’t all about levelling up and shooting bad guys. With prestigious universities offering qualifications in game design, plenty of career pathways into the industry, and a wide array of employment opportunities, is it time to take a fresh look at how the intrinsically fun and engaging nature of playing video games can be harnessed for good? This week on School Stream, we are looking at the positive side of gaming, how gaming can improve STEM outcomes for female students and all details of the 2022 Australian STEM Video Game Challenge.
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Playing video games for good
As many educators know, not all games are created equal. There are some truly terrible video games that have zero educational value and may even shrink our precious grey matter. However, video games that focus on challenges like 3D building, require collaboration to solve puzzles or involve a “quest” of some kind have been shown to develop brain capacity, including enhanced visuospatial skills and building increased attention span. Jane McGonigal takes it even further in her (very entertaining) TED Talk when she says that gamers have four superpowers we should be harnessing to solve real-world problems: blissful productivity, the ability to weave a tight social fabric, a feeling of urgent optimism and the desire for epic meaning. What happens if we move from playing video games to actually building video games?
What can video game design and development teach students?
If we dig a little deeper, the skills students develop through design and building a game are priceless for the world we live in. Alongside the ‘soft skills’ necessary to build a game (innovative thinking, creativity, collaboration) the following list highlights some of the core skills that are developed through the process of designing an interactive, playable video game.
When we think of game design, one of the first skills that comes to mind is coding. Programmers and designers see coding as an extension of writing – except being able to code allows you to ‘write’ all types of things: interactive stories, games, animations, virtual tours, you name it! Mitchel Resnick is Professor of Learning Research at the MIT Media Lab and one of the co-founders of the free (and wildly successful) educational coding tool Scratch. He describes the benefits of learning to code:
“In the process of learning to code, people learn many other things. They are not just learning to code, they are coding to learn. In addition to learning mathematical and computational ideas (such as variables and conditionals), they are also learning strategies for solving problems, designing projects, and communicating ideas. These skills are useful not just for computer scientists but for everyone, regardless of age, background, interests, or occupation.” Learn to code, code to learn
Computational thinking is a way of solving problems, designing systems and understanding human behaviour. It’s a critical skill when it comes to video game development and design, but we use computational thinking all the time – even when we’re not learning to build video games! For example, we use computational thinking when we follow recipes, play card games, assemble flat pack furniture, use online map directions or plan activities on the basis of a weather forecast. This important future-proof approach to problem-solving encompasses skills such as breaking down complex tasks into manageable chunks, looking for similarities, identifying the relevant information and opportunities for simplification, and creating a plan for a solution.
“When children develop computational skills, they are able to articulate a problem and think logically. It helps them to break down the issues at hand and predict what may happen in the future. It’s helping them to explore cause and effect and analyze how their actions or the actions of others impact the given situation.” Dr Chad Habel
Computational thinking is generating quite the buzz in education circles, and we can expect to hear more in the coming years as it makes its way on to the national curriculum.
Creativity & Collaboration
When it comes to game design, UK-based Screen Skills describes a career in the games industry as a “collision between art and technology”. Building a playable game requires a highly-skilled interdisciplinary team made up of people with STEM-forward skills, as well as people who can deliver music, sound, artwork, project management and a creative approach to thinking informed by collaboration.
Can video game design bridge the STEM gender divide?
First up, why is it important that female students are excited about STEM? Quite simply, because that’s where the jobs are. With STEM jobs growing at twice the rate of all other jobs, it’s important to start young when it comes to making STEM fun. And while we think of gaming as the domain of teenage boys, The Digital Australia 2020 report by Bond University and the Interactive Games and Entertainment Association found that almost half of all video game players are female. There is also loads of evidence showing girls who show an interest in playing video games are more likely to pursue a STEM-related field at university.
The Australian STEM Video Game Challenge and resources
The Australian STEM Video Game Challenge has created a competition to challenge and engage students from Year 5 -12 to build an interactive, playable game, with the hope it will ignite a longstanding enthusiasm for the joys and possibilities of STEM. Mentor registrations for the 2022 challenge will open mid-late Feb and the final team registration and submission is in early July. Head to their website for all the information you need, alongside loads of research, resources and to take a peek at last years’ entries.
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