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Cascade Arcade: We need university video game textbooks

I’ve been at university long enough to know that I’m not the only student who struggles to get through the often dense readings and stale homework assignments that are typically assigned each week. How many of us have tried to sit down and do homework only to have our eyes glaze over – even when the subject material is about something we genuinely care about? These methods of teaching pale in comparison to the exciting media landscape that we’ve come to expect from our entertainment and social networking experiences.

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By Joel Smart (The Cascade) – Email

Print Edition: January 23, 2013

I remember when I first learned how to type, they introduced me to a computer game called Mavis Beacon Teaches Typing. A game we played at school – for marks! It was a revolutionary concept to me at the time, and I remember imagining how cool it would be if we could learn in other classes using a similar style.

Now I’m not saying I want all of my classes to turn into video games, or that I think teachers should be replaced by digital avatars with pre-recorded messages. We’ve gone close enough to that with online classes for me to know that something would be lost in the process.

But I’ve been at university long enough to know that I’m not the only student who struggles to get through the often dense readings and stale homework assignments that are typically assigned each week. How many of us have tried to sit down and do homework only to have our eyes glaze over – even when the subject material is about something we genuinely care about? These methods of teaching pale in comparison to the exciting media landscape that we’ve come to expect from our entertainment and social networking experiences.

Learning doesn’t have to be dull. People learn better when they can interact with material and find ways of applying it in a personal way. Games, unlike any other medium out there, allow people to experience something first-hand. Science students, for example, might have the chance to safely carry out experiments or try out some of the natural processes they’re studying in a game. Students might also better understand certain theorists’ concepts through a series of minigames designed to explore the different perspectives being studied. Games could work for literally every field of study – and they could make learning a more enjoyable experience.

Games also have the ability to learn and adapt to different learning styles, and to identify problem areas. They could become invaluable tools during busy cram sessions. There are already applications designed to make studying easier – working similar to online flash cards. However, if an entire course was designed around a game, the study tools could be a lot more in-depth and useful. If you struggle with a certain math concept, a game would remember and point you towards the simpler concepts that clarify it, and test you on those as well, come test time. After students have used a game, it could report those stats to the teacher; that way face-to-face class time could be designed to better help students with the specific areas they’ve been struggling with.

Some designers have termed games like these “serious games.” One Gamasutra article suggested that they replace airplane safety videos. They could be designed to ensure each person on the flight understands how to find the floatation device, put on the mask or find an exit in an emergency. Serious games could become part of the learner’s license for driving, to make the transition onto the road a little easier. They could even come with cookbooks, IKEA furniture or parenting books for anxious, expecting couples.

The possibilities are nearly endless, but university campuses would be one of the best places to start. As a bonus, upgrading to the latest edition of a “textbook game” would be a simple DLC pack away. With more and more textbooks coming with included discs for online study material and small study applications, perhaps the reality is that a full-on textbook video game isn’t that far off. I’ve got my fingers crossed.

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