A couple of weeks ago, I was invited (by no less than Aleks Krotoski) to be a panellist at the What Are Games Really Teaching Us? evening at the Dana Centre in London, funded by Nintendo. The Guardian advertised it beforehand, which gave the opportunity for a few of their readers to comment with their opinions.
As Aleks is the direct cause of two of my career changes in the last decade, and as it sounded fun, I accepted. This was an odd event for me; I'm used to the academic arena, standing up there and warbling away while subjecting the audience to an increasingly risque batch of Keynote slides (if academics are unexpectedly exposed to naked flesh, they tend not to remember whether your presentation was any good or not - fact).
However here, the evening was split between playing a selection of Wii games, and taking questions on how and whether games taught us "stuff", either implicitly or explicitly. After floundering a bit at first (the other two speakers had some informal but prepared notes, whereas I had a napkin with the ironic "Do not headbutt anyone who mentions violence in games" written on it), and helped by the free beers that Tobin acquired for the speakers, I just started to say the first things that came into my head, which seemed to work. Hopefully.
More professionally, Pat Kane (one of the other speakers and - get this - one half of Hue and Cry) spoke eloquently about several wider reference points regarding games in teaching. He pointed out that games and gaming were as essential to sleep (too right: much of our daily routines are made of play and challenges), and made a lot of socio-economic and political points about games and how they make other scenarios and worlds possible in the mind of the player. Methinks I'm going to purchase his book The Play Ethic: A Manifesto For a Different Way of Living and read a little further on this.
The other speaker, the game designer Sophie Blakemore, made pertinent points about the use of violent games, and how American and British gamers used different terminology when describing how they played games. I chipped in with some comments about how virtual worlds are used for more serious purposes e.g. training, simulation and roleplay, and the emergence of location-based gaming. It was disappointing - and puzzling - to note that only one member of the audience had participated in Geocaching (much more about this in future postings), especially as this is such a popular pastime.
Some of the audience mused and were sceptical about the value of games in learning (breaking the oft-broken rule that if you can't figure out how X is useful to you, that doesn't mean that other people cannot find it useful), though most of the comments were open-minded. Actually this was a much better audience than many academic debates on games and learning I've attended over the years. Maybe it's because the audience were more willing; maybe because games are more acceptable to the general public than they have been, even a few years ago; maybe it's because academia tends to attract vocal people who's attitude is "Can't work, won't work" to anything they aren't funded to do. Who knows; maybe it's healthier to do more public, and less academic, debates such as these.