What computer games should I play?
September 13, 2009 4:24 AM   Subscribe

I'm an educator interested in the potential of computer games for learning and teaching. I don't have a lot of experience playing games. What games would you recommend me to start playing? I'm especially interested in games that involve communication between players. I have a PC, an XBOX 360 and a wii. Thanks!
posted by sinbarambam to Computers & Internet (10 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Boom Blox Bash Party for Wii would be an interesting study for you in the Multiplayer mode (and it's also fun!). In the "real world", communication between players is necessary since both players can change the camera view and at the more advanced levels the best strategy requires collaboration.
posted by jeremias at 5:25 AM on September 13, 2009

No specific answer for you, but I work at NYU and we have the Games for Learning Institute which is doing some pretty cool research into this area. And here's a video that we shot of them for our Alumni website.
posted by lucidreamstate at 5:25 AM on September 13, 2009 [1 favorite]

A left-field suggestion: Google Image Labeler
posted by mattholomew at 5:39 AM on September 13, 2009 [1 favorite]

the potential of computer games for learning and teaching

This is a pretty broad thing- can you be more specific about what you're looking for? Most games can arguably have some element of teaching something. Multiplayer FPS (Halo, Call of Duty, etc.) games are increasingly about teamwork. A lot of RTS games (Age of Empires, Command and Conquer) require building managing a supply chain. Spore and the Civilization series teach about how societies tend to rise and fall.

There's a whole genre of games whose names begin with "Sim" or end with "Tycoon" (though not necessarily from the same developer) that attempt to simulate various things- usually an engine of some sort. SimCity is obviously the granddaddy of these (Spore is actually the direct descendant of this game), and shares a surprising amount with games like Railroad/Roller Coaster Tycoon.
posted by mkultra at 7:52 AM on September 13, 2009

2nding the Games for Learning Institute as a resource. Also, the Educational Technology group at Arizona State University is pretty nifty (disclaimer: I'm at ASU, and I know EdTech people. They're awesome).

As far as specific game recommendations go, what are you looking for? Like, just a broad overview of games to get up-to-date with "gamer culture" in general? If so, what gamers? What culture? I don't mean to be flip, I'm just trying to narrow down what slice of a broad field you're interested in.

As far as games that I see having some potential, there're a huge set of physics-based games -- bridge builders (Pontifex, BCS, etc); mechanics puzzles (Armadillo Run, various The Incredible Machine iterations); sandbox stuff (some parts of Little Big Planet); construction (World of Goo is both a physics puzzle and a really interesting game). None of those really require communications though.

Since you specified multiplayer games that involve communications.. well, there's a huge amount of team coordination in team-based first person shooters like Team Fortress, but they're not very suitable for a lot of educational settings in other ways (lots of violence). I can't think of anything with similar collaborative aspects that isn't built on similarly violent/competitive stuff. That's an interesting space though, so I'm curious what other folks recommend.
posted by Alterscape at 7:54 AM on September 13, 2009

this is a little bit self-promoting, but the web game I wrote could be used to teach about orbital mechanics in a fun way. All you need is a computer with a web browser:

Asteroid Invasion
posted by spacefire at 8:24 AM on September 13, 2009

If you happen to teach social studies or history, the Civilization series might fit into your course. It's a strategy game in which you lead the development of a civilization from ancient times to the future. The latest game in the series, Civilization IV, includes a built-in encyclopedia detailing real historical information about the various civilizations, peoples, and units you encounter. It's worth a look.
posted by Aanidaani at 12:21 PM on September 13, 2009

Like others mentioned, it would be helpful to know what kind of learning and teaching you're looking at doing, but you may want to take a look at Second Life as a medium. It's a virtual world rather than a game with a goal, and a lot of people use it simply as a social meeting ground and creative outlet, but the possibilities for education there are pretty broad. You can set up cooperative games - including shoot-em-up, if that's your cup of tea - participate in role-play, meet up for classes, and set up simulations. A lot of users feel a pretty strong sense of embodiment as time goes on, and the associated implications and possibilities are pretty interesting.

Several universities offer classes there, and at least one - Texas State Technical College - offers certificates fully obtainable via SL. I once ran across a health care education/simulation set-up, though I no longer remember who was behind it. The International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) has an active presence in SL.

The Second Life environment is built and programmed by its own residents, and this degree of user customization makes it incredibly flexible. Really, I'm only skimming the SL surface here. SL has plenty of limitations, but I think it's worth a look. If you decide to go visiting in-world, contact me via email and I'll show you the ropes.
posted by moira at 12:43 PM on September 13, 2009

It isn't a multiplayer game, but you might be interested in something we've just launched called Smokescreen - it's a game all about life online. We're releasing 13 missions that will cover topics like online security, phishing, cyberbullying, identity theft, online privacy, etc; in other words, it's the perfect resource to address all the stories you hear of kids being kicked out of school for their Facebook profile.

Mission 3: Too Much Information is a good start and shows off the sort of things we do in the game in terms of simulating real websites, as well as the story and educational impact. Best results on newer browsers like Firefox 3 and IE8 though!
posted by adrianhon at 1:12 PM on September 13, 2009

Puzzle games often have some important mathematical foundations, but mainly in areas we don't educate teachers or children about. Stuff like pigeon hole theorems and logic and graph theory.

If you're interested in studying communication in games, well, be prepared. Online gamers have a reputation.
posted by pwnguin at 9:13 PM on September 13, 2009

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