Games with a Purpose: Interview with Anastasia Salter

Salter_BioAnastasia Salter is an assistant professor at the University of Baltimore in the Department of Science, Information Arts, and Technologies. Her primary research is on digital narratives with a continuing focus on virtual worlds, gender and cyberspace, games as literature, educational games and fan production. She holds a doctorate in communications design from U. Baltimore and an M.F.A. in children’s literature at Hollins University. She is on the web at

This interview was conducted by Mike Roy, editorial board member of the Academic Commons. A founding editor of the Academic Commons with long-standing interest in the impact of new technology on the meaning and practice of liberal education, he is currently the dean of library and information services and chief information officer at Middlebury College.

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This Is Not a Game (It’s a Class): Lessons Learned From An In-Class Alternate Reality Game (ARG)

 by Brett Boessen

Boessen_BioAlternate Reality Games (ARGs) are a little-known but fascinating storytelling genre that blends digital, networked, and live face-to-face components engagingly in a unique way (when done well). In a learning scenario that seeks to encourage deeper understanding of the ways these elements interrelate in contemporary culture, playing an ARG can be an exciting and deeply meaningful pedagogical tool.

However, the ability to participate in an ongoing ARG as part of a college course in a useful way is usually hindered by at least three problems. First, scheduling is prohibitive, since ARGs often unfold over many months, making them hard to pair with a fall or spring semester schedule. Second, most ARGs operate under the TINAG principle — “This Is Not A Game” — and as such do not readily reveal themselves to players even as they are being played, which can make it difficult even to be confident one is playing a game at all until significant resources have been invested. Finally, most popular, high-profile ARGs are built around a commercial imperative driven by marketing and advertising needs that do not necessarily fit comfortably with typical learning objectives.

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Taking Games in Libraries Seriously

by Andy Burkhardt 

“Games are unquestionably the single most important cultural form of the digital age.”

-Cathy Davidson[1]

What do aggravated avians and wandering warlocks have in common? Aside from their potential to cause mayhem, they are characters in some of the most popular games today. With over one billion downloads across all platforms and editions, Angry Birds has become a cultural phenomenon. Similarly, World of Warcraft has over ten million subscribers, making it the largest massively multiplayer online role-playing game (MMORPG). These games are entertaining and fun, they sell t-shirts, and they have colorful characters, but make no mistake: these games are serious business. Games are now an integral part of our society in business, entertainment, and increasingly, education.

The reason these games have made millions of dollars is because they are engaging, challenging, and fun. However, instead of being mere entertainment, there are also numerous educational aspects to games. Games let us practice skills like solving complex problems, collaborating with others, planning, and learning from failure. This is why a growing number of scholars are studying games and more educators are integrating game play into their classrooms. Games are swiftly becoming an invaluable tool for teaching in the digital age.

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Gaming the future of higher education

by Bryan Alexander, Senior Fellow, National Institute for Technology in Liberal Education

Alexander_BioWhat will happen to higher education in the future? Versions of this question have been asked with increasing frequency over the past decade, especially since the 2007-2008 financial crisis and the challenging economic environment for colleges and universities that followed. Demographic, political, technological, and institutional developments have added to an atmosphere of tension and impending crisis. High-profile conferences have summoned campus leaders and media attention to ponder the fate of academia.[1] State and national political campaigns energetically discuss details of college tuition, staffing, curriculum, and policies. The University of Virginia’s board controversially (and briefly) deposed a president over strategy concerning these issues.

Can we use gaming to improve our ability to think through these challenging times?[2] I pose this surprising question because of the parallel rise of another trend from the past decade. The uses of gaming for learning have been much discussed, experimented with, and developed since the 2003 publication of James Paul Gee’s landmark book, What Video Games Have to Teach Us about Learning and Literacy.[3] There has been a flood of discussion about the various ways games and simulations can enhance skills learning, convey curricular content, be used in libraries, and serve as the object of an emerging academic discipline, game studies. Games, “serious games,” and simulations have reached beyond academia into the realms of policymaking, entertainment, and news media.[4] Gamification, the use of game mechanics beyond formal game content, is being discussed to influence business, policy, and daily life. To propose using games to think through education’s fate is actually consonant with the tenor of our times.

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Challenges to Games in Education Reaching the Mainstream

by Todd Bryant

Bryant_BioTodd Bryant is the liaison to the foreign language departments for the Academic Technology group at Dickinson College and an adjunct instructor of German. Much of his work centers on maintaining and updating The Mixxer, a site he created to help connect language students with native speakers via Skype. His interest in games began with his own use of World of Warcraft in an introductory German course, and he has helped others integrate Civilization IV, Inform7 and Peacemaker into various courses in the social sciences. You can follow Todd on Twitter: @bryantt and @MixxerSite.

Games have received a great deal of public attention over the past 10 years and with good reason. With his book What Video Games Have to Teach Us About Learning and Literacy,James Paul Gee laid out sound pedagogical principles used by video game designers that enabled them to create a product that was very engaging and at the same time extremely challenging and complex.[1] The book was extremely influential and organizations focused on games and learning were established shortly thereafter, including “GamesforChange” in 2004[2] and “Games + Learning + Society” in 2005.[3] Since then games have remained prominent in education. The number of articles matching the term “game-based learning” in Google Scholar has increased steadily each year from 604 in 2004[4] to 2310 in 2012.[5] Educational uses of games have received major grant funding from the NEH,[6] Catherine T. MacArthur, and Bill & Melinda Gates Foundations.[7] They have also received serious attention from mainstream media including news organizations NPR[8] and CNN,[9] the New York Times best-selling book Reality is Broken: Why Games Make Us Better and How They Can Change the World,[10] and as an exhibit in the Smithsonian.[11]

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Game-Based Learning: Interview with Maura Smale

Transformations  September 30, 2013

Maura A. Smale is an associate professor and head of library instruction at New York City College of Technology, CUNY, where she leads the library’s information literacy efforts. Her academic background includes both a Ph.D. in anthropology (New York University) and a Masters of library and information science (Pratt Institute). She is a member of the Steering Committee of the CUNY Games Network, a multidisciplinary group of faculty and staff interested in exploring the use of games and simulations for teaching and learning. She is also involved in a multi-year study of how, where, and when undergraduates at CUNY do their academic work. Her other research interests include open access publishing and new models of scholarly communication, critical information literacy, and emerging instructional technologies.

This interview was conducted by Mike Roy, editorial board member of the Academic Commons. A founding editor of the Academic Commons with long-standing interest in the impact of new technology on the meaning and practice of liberal education, he is currently the dean of library and information services and chief information officer at Middlebury College.

Read more