Saving the world with online games

12 September 2018

Online gaming

Could online games be the solution to the world’s biggest problems? According to University of Waikato Senior Lecturer Dianne Forbes, they might be.

From the launch of chess in the sixth century to last year’s Pokémon Go craze, games have always been an important part of our society. Nowadays, online games are on the rise, with a greater number of people watching the 2016 League of Legends final than those who watched the final of the NBA.

While games such as League of Legends and World of Warcraft are engaging and popular among youth, they aren’t appropriate for younger audiences. Educational games are underdeveloped and underfunded, leaving few quality game options for teachers to provide their students.

Diane Forbes

University of Waikato Senior Lecturer Dr Dianne Forbes has always been interested in the role of games in the classroom, having seen the benefits of educational gaming with early childhood, primary and tertiary institutes.

We sat down with Dianne to discuss how gaming apps can be used in education and maybe solve the world’s problems.

Why are games so important in the education sector?

Children have always learned through games and play – this is nothing new. Games are such an important learning tool because people are more inclined to learn when the level of challenge is just sufficient to keep them interested without fear of failure. Well-designed games encourage creativity, imagination, problem solving, collaboration and competition, as well as resilience.

What initially drew your attention to gaming apps?

In 2001 I had the good fortune to teach in a digital class where there was a ratio of one computer to every two children. Here, I began to see the incredible learning potential that technology can provide when used in moderation, including gaming apps.

Are gaming apps used in classrooms now?

Yes, and there’s a considerable opportunity to maximise this even further. The best games create a story or a new world which people immerse themselves in, like World of Warcraft or Farmville. However, these games aren’t educational or appropriate for the classroom. Although there are some exceptions, such as Minecraft and Mahimaina, most educational games have generally been created on a limited budget and are far less engaging.

So, what is the best way to use games for educational purposes?

We need to combine the two worlds – the cutting-edge technology used to create popular games, combined with sophisticated insight into the learning process. The learning potential from online games is incredible and could really influence change all over the world.

Recently, I attended the NZ Council for Educational Research conference on Games for Learning, looking at equity and social impact, and I learned of a range of exciting educational games. Among them is Never Alone (Kisima Initchuna), a game developed in collaboration with native people of Alaska, combining gaming, storytelling, and preservation of language and culture.

How could online games change the world?

When people play games, they demonstrate incredible resilience, teamwork and focus. When a person loses a game they will get back up and try again – they are also trying to improve on their personal bests and always striving to do better.

If people brought the same commitment to the world’s problems as they do to gaming, we would have a situation where people are willing to work for hours, totally immersed and incredibly resilient. If we could bring some of those capabilities to the world’s problems, there is a chance of solving some huge issues around poverty, environmental sustainability, cross-cultural understanding and the big problems the world is facing.

What is the biggest misconception about gaming?

A lot of people think gaming just involves a gamer and a device, not realising there is usually a lot more to it than that. Players usually work with teammates, communicating via their headsets. The level of collaboration they show when they work out ways to solve problems in the game is critical in developing the teamwork skills needed in everyday life.

What would you say to students who are interested in studying digital learning or game development?

Enrol in a Bachelor of Social Sciences with the University of Waikato’s new digital learning major. This degree will be highly relevant, not only to early childhood, primary, secondary and tertiary teachers, but also to those interested in game design. There is a wide range of papers available within the digital learning space and you can really carve out your own degree the way you want it.

The University of Waikato has always been a leader in the field of technology and development, bringing the internet to New Zealand in 1989. This year marks the 20th anniversary of the University of Waikato’s Bachelor of Teaching (Primary) Mixed Media programme, which combines face-to-face and online teaching to make education more accessible to those students who cannot attend classes due to distance.

In 2018, the University of Waikato launched a Digital Learning major within the Bachelor of Social Sciences. Apply now or talk to us about your options.

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