Digital Game Based Learning: Educational Video Games?

Initial Publication Date: August 25, 2006

The Wave of the Future?

The typical college student plays an estimated 1.8 hours a day of video games (Prensky, 2001b ). Understandably, educators want a piece of that!

  • The US military uses computer war games for training for everything from high-level international command coordination to using a weapon (see AP 2003 and Prensky, 2001b ).
  • New companies are springing up to provide educational games for businesses for subjects ranging from technical training and sexual harassment awareness. For examples, check out:
  • Universities are just beginning to exploit this niche, partly because of the considerable expense of developing video games (Foreman, 2003 ).

Educational Digital-Learning Projects

The first efforts have resulted in college-level educational video games, but many consortia are still determining objectives and applying for funds. Virtual Cell Logo

  • North Dakota State University's World Wide Web Instructional Committee (more info) is developing interactive online games for geology (Geology Explorer: Planet Oit Information ( This site may be offline. ) and biology (Virtual Cell (more info) ). These games are accessible to the public.
  • The Education Arcade (more info) The games described on these sites are highly developed prototypes, mostly for engineering courses.
  • A coalition including Harvard and George Mason is developing MUVEES, Multi-User Virtual Environment Experiential Simulators, which uses museum multimedia to create a virtual world where students can learn cooperatively online.
  • Gravel is another college-educational video-game research and development group, part of the New Media Institute at the University of Minnesota. Their proposal gives some estimates of how much it costs to produce a video game, even with deep educational discounts.

Some of the biggest challenges in designing a video game involve the graphical environment, but tools for this part of a game are already partly developed in the form of virtual field trips and visualization software (Drummond, 2003 ).

Challenges for Educators Creating Video Games

Video-game designers and academic geologists are the products of intensive but very different training.

  • Academics are used to lecturing and writing, presenting material in words, and taking things step by step.
  • But video games are about pictures, especially animated ones, and letting the player decide in what order to perform tasks (Prensky, 2001a ).
  • Additionally, good graphic artists, animators, and programmers will be essential for producing good video games. This is not a task for academics to handle alone.

The expenses are mostly for software and the time of professionals, not really for hardware.

  • Animation software is available to educators at a deep discount, but a commercial-grade video game will still cost university consortia millions to make.
  • Do educational video games need to be as visually spectacular as commercial ones? Probably not, but an "engine", the part of the software that makes a game interactive, flexible, and easy to use, is still quite expensive to design.

For Further Reading

Soapbox, an online forum, organized a panel with experts including Marc Prensky,and Chris Dede (from the MUVEES project) to discuss What Can Education Learn from the Video Game Industry?.