Researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison use state-of-the-art MRI scanners to examine whether new video games can change the structure and function of the brain. (Photo: Narayan Mahon/Education Week)
More recently, James Paul Gee, the godfather of video game theory and a co-founder of Games+Learning+Society, has advanced the idea that success in playing video games can offer proof of student mastery of academic content.
Mr. Gee, now a professor at Arizona State University in Tempe, used as an example the popular first-person shooter video game Halo, arguing that it would be nonsensical to give children who successfully complete the game separate, written tests of their Halo knowledge.
“The game is the test,” said Mr. Gee. “If we could design teaching algebra as well as Halo is designed, we’d say the same thing.”
Games+Learning+Society has devoted more resources and talent than most to overcoming two key challenges to Mr. Gee’s vision: creating video games that children actually want to play and capitalizing on the avalanche of information the games generate.
The center’s design studio includes more than a dozen programmers, developers, and artists. Creative director Brian Pelletier spent 18 years overseeing the artistic development of popular commercial games like X-Men Legends.
While not a multimillion-dollar blockbuster, Crystals of Kaydor took Mr. Pelletier’s team eight months and $300,000 to create.
The same attention is being paid to the game’s back end, where researchers and programmers are refining a new system for collecting and analyzing “clickstream data.”
Completing Crystals requires about 3,000 “events,” such as taps on the screen, each of which represents a decision made by the player. The game automatically logs records of every event, along with roughly 15 pieces of related information that it has been programmed to collect.
Soon, the center will have a huge database to mine for evidence that particular patterns of play — how a child solved a particular problem or how long he or she spent trying — are tied to learning outcomes.
Instead of taking isolated, de-contextualized snapshots of student learning, said Mr. Gee, “we can now use digital [games] to assess people in multiple contexts, measure their growth across time, and track different trajectories to mastery. It’s an incredibly threatening moment for more traditional forms of assessment.”