The design and use of simulation computer games in education

НазваниеThe design and use of simulation computer games in education
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III. Identity-Development Affordances

There are multiple ways in which Questers can represent themselves in the virtual environment of QA. Through these different means, Questers can develop online personae (Turkle, 1995), but unlike most MUVES, these online personae are not simply fictional characters with little connection to real-world identities. In this section, we focus on four of these structures: choosing one’s avatar, putting one’s name on the QA wall, filling out one’s homepage, and purchasing and building on the virtual land.

Avatar Choice. When Questers login to QA, they appear in the virtual environment as an avatar with attributes chosen by the Quester and persisting from one session to the next. Using the “avatar creator,” Questers can choose a female or male avatar, customize hair and skin color, and select one of six clothing or body styles: adventure, punk, sport, summer, winter, and formal. Five of the clothing style choices are very similar between male and female avatars, but the “formal” type is an exception: male avatars have a tuxedo, and female avatars have a pink prom dress. We collected data from a single point in time showing the current avatar being used by each participant. After eliminating data regarding researchers and participants who had not yet used the avatar creator, we were left with 988 participants, including 507 females and 481 males—the Avatar Creator was a fairly recent introduction to QA, being only four months old when this paper was written. These were then sorted into categories based on chosen avatar style (see Table 2). The chi-square statistic of the difference between the avatar choices of female and male participants was strongly significant (X2 = 77 (df = 6), p < .01).

Table 2. Count of avatar styles

Avatar Style






































Among males, the “sport” style was the most popular, followed by “punk,” whereas female participants chose the pink dress style far more often than any other. Also, overall, boys’ self-representations show more variety than those of girls. Though most of the avatar choices are rather gender-neutral, girls seem to gravitate toward the very feminine dress style, and to a lesser degree the adventure style (which, with a cape and belt, may also be interpreted as a female costume). This pattern mirrors the problem in the commercial video game world of females being depicted in limited and stereotyped ways. By providing mostly gender-neutral clothing styles, we may be offering girls too few appealing choices for self-representation (Bruckman, 1998; Donath, 1998; Turkle, 1994). Further, when so many girls choose the same clothing style, their presence in the virtual space begins to appear homogenous. As one researcher put it, girls are “running into themselves all over.” Discovering how this may effect girls’ perception of themselves and of female involvement in QA will require further research.

Homepages. Each Quester also has a personal homepage that is displayed when another user clicks on the individual’s avatar or clicks the sender’s name of a QA email. The amount of information on one’s page, including information about their likes, interests, talents, and possible future careers, is determined entirely by the individual. Girls (M = 82 characters) tended to write significantly more information on their personal homepages than did boys (M = 55) (t(3340) = 6.50, p < .01). This finding suggests that girls are more willing and invested in putting information on their homepages for others to read (or, another interpretation, are simply more likely to complete what they interpret as “assignments” even if the degree of completion is optional). Qualitative analysis also reveals that girls tend to present more information regarding hobbies and interests than do boys.

Name Plaques and Jobs. Another category of identity presentation involves leaving personal traces in the virtual environment that others can see regardless of whether the individual is currently logged on. First, once students complete more than two Quests, they can apply to the Council, describing how they have contributed to the Council’s mission and, if approved, get their name posted on a plaque on a virtual wall. This activity produced equal interest, with 41 girls and 39 boys applying to have their names on the wall and indicating no significant differences between genders. On a related note, at the time of this writing, students can apply for QA helper positions, including greeter, tour guide, and chat monitor. These jobs had been active for only a month, but already, 50 girls and 69 boys had signed up, with no significant different among genders; as with placing one’s name on the wall, this feature seems to be compelling to both boys and girls.

IV. Collaborative Participation Affordances

Collaborative Roles. An illuminating form of collaboration occurs when one child with more knowledge or experience helps another child in QA, through orienting, supporting, or assisting them. These scaffolding and apprenticeship activities have been observed throughout the duration of the project. Even when QA was in its formative stages, implemented only at an after-school youth club alongside other computer games, we witnessed children helping each other to a remarkable extent, for altruistic reasons, for the joy of collaboration, and for the cachet that expertise brought. For example, one child wanting to join others in the virtual space was helped by a friend: “You and him are chatting together. I wanna be there.” He called for a staff member to figure out how—“I need help getting to…”—and his friend showed him, physically sharing the chair and appropriating the mouse.

As the program structures—and calls for support—grew more extensive, children helping each other became a cultural norm. As mentioned earlier, children with “jobs” in the virtual space submit reports on their experiences. In this report, a child demonstrates how his work as a greeter contributed substantially to the experiences of others, suggesting that his helping was its own reward:

Then I greeted adejau0. He asked me to show him around the worlds, so I did. He told me I was a great friend. The next person I greeted was alexechr0. He asked me to tell him how to build. Now, thanks to me, he has a beautiful house in Qville. Then I greeted kirklau0. She said that it was a wonderful start to her time on Quest Atlantis. The last person I greeted was my friend zcorrKR, who is no longer doing Quest Atlantis. Because of that greeting, we became good friends.

Though sometimes these represent fairly simplistic collaborations, such as helping another navigate in the virtual environment, at other times they even rise to collaborative work on the academic Quests. This latter type of collaborative work began with children helping each other in parallel as they worked individually on the same Quest. Given the power of this type of collaborative work, this ability was eventually instantiated into a design affordance where Questers could submit collaborative work yet each be responsible for their own reflections on their individual contributions and experience. Whether in the physical space of the computer lab or the virtual space of the OTAK, children engage in scaffolding and apprenticeship activities that contribute significantly to the experiences of all participants and, indeed, to the ethos or cultural norms of the program.

Guilds. Another play structure of interest is Guilds: Questers can join a group in which they have a common mission and thus share percentages of points earned with fellow group members. Over the past year, the Guilds were active for only two months. However, in that period 112 boys and 91 girls signed up to join a Guild (X2(1) = 1.08, p > .05 (again, no difference between genders). One aspect of these Guilds is that participants can break allegiance with one Guild and join a different one. While there are no significant differences in terms of the number of Questers who signed up for Guilds, there are significant differences in terms of “Guild disloyalty.” Of the Questers who have signed up for a Guild, 63 boys have broken from one Guild to join another and only 24 girls have done so, indicating that boys are more than twice as likely to break their affiliation with a Guild (X2(1) = 12.75, p < .01). One could treat this data as an example either of boys being more active or of a potential on their part to be disloyal. Clearly, member checking is necessary before any assertions can be advanced. In terms of Guild choices, girls were most likely to choose the Culture Guild with its focus on expressions of culture while boys chose the Ecology Guild with its focus on environmental issues.

V. Communication Affordances

The primary means of communication within QA is verbal discourse, usually typed on a keyboard and then read as text on another computer screen. Questers can communicate synchronously through chat and telegrams, and asynchronously through email and bulletin boards, all of which have their unique norms, and each of which engenders a different form of communication (Herring, 2004). Moreover, all of these forms of communication are used actively and extensively. Public chat consists of short messages sent by one participant to all other participants within “hearing range” of the sender, and in the first 15 months of the program, children typed almost 500,000 lines of chat. In general, girls tended to post almost twice as many chat messages as boys.

The QA email system supports longer messages consisting of multiple lines and quoting of previous messages, and supporting multiple recipients. No one outside the QA program can send or receive email within the system, and Questers cannot send emails to people outside of their local classroom or affiliation unless they first meet this person in the virtual space and add their username to their “Friends” list. In the first 15 months, children sent almost 1,500 emails with boys being almost twice as likely to send an email than girls. Telegrams are short private messages sent from one sender to typically a single recipient, and bulletin boards, like traditional online forums, support threaded conversations and entail topics initiated by both teachers and researchers. Girls tended to send more telegrams and make more posts than do boys.

Example of Chat. Beginning with chat, we first look at three conversations from a randomly-selected day to illuminate the types of interactions that occurred and the extent that these are gendered. To reiterate, although the day was randomly selected, it is not necessarily representative of the chat in general. Still, this dialogue does provide a window into the types of chat interactions that occur. Identifying sender-recipient relationships for public chat is more difficult than identifying the relationships for mail or telegrams, as done below. Unlike mail or telegrams, chat messages do not have an explicit address that identifies the recipient. Therefore, we inferred these relationships by looking for topical cohesion between messages and explicit addressing by the participant to the sender (Panyametheekul & Herring, 2003). These relationships were processed by the software programs Ucinet and Krackplot (Borgatti, Everett, & Freeman, 1999) to build the network map shown in Figure 3.

Figure 3. Network map showing sender–receiver chat relationships,
with girls being represented as the darker nodes

In Figure 3, the conversational ties between after-school and late-night participants are displayed at the bottom of the figure. Two different types of conversations tended to dominate the discussion on this day. With respect to the first type, Emigrl (a U.S. girl) and Oompaloompa (an Australian boy) occupy central locations in the network due to the long period of time they spent online that day. As other participants dropped out of the space and new participants logged in, Emigrl and Oompaloompa were able to establish new conversational connections. Both male and female participants in QA can develop central positions within the QA social network by participating in the MUVE after school and actively engaging other participants in conversation. The cluster of nodes at the top of the diagram reflects the second type of conversation, in which an entire classroom logs in at the same time. Here, there are relatively limited chat connections among participants, usually because the teacher has an explicit goal for students in the virtual environment.

Example of Email. QA email postings tend to be longer in length and more substantive in content than the chat. The topics range from the building of friendships, to talking with the Council, to conversations among groups of Questers on a common topic. An example of students vying for social status among other classmates can be seen in the following thread. It is important to note, similar to other observations of the chat space, that neither the boy nor girl necessarily has more power than the other; instead the issue is socially-negotiated at the level of the interaction—not pre-determined by one’s gender. In this interaction, one boy Quester, referring to the virtual hotel built by a girl classmate, stated,

Come one come all its Lisa’s hotel and you wouldn’t want to miss a spot in this totally awsome hotel. there is going to be a pool at least two floors at most I don't even know the answer to that question. If you guys and girls want a spot you better hurry.

P.S. You guys’ll love it :)

Another boy student responded,

Dont go to Lisa's Hotel it stinks!!!!!

Defending her friend, another girl responded,


Trying to get people to visit the hotel he and his friend built together, a boy responded to the thread,

My hotel rocks book a room in it now for freee you get whatever you want in it. Whatever you do dont go to Lisa’s hotel.

Another boy, being a little more diplomatic, stated,

Mike is right you can book a room for nothing at my [our] hotel 2. But come 2 both hotels [referring to his and Lisa’s].

Questers also use telegrams to communicate. Telegrams were usually abbreviated messages, a little longer than chat posts but shorter than emails. They also tended to be one-to-one in that the system requires them to be directed to a particular receiver. While power differences do emerge among Questers, in terms of email, telegrams, and even chat, power differences tended not to be defined along gendered lines. Nonetheless, girls did tend to use all of these communication structures significantly more than boys, as illuminated in the quantitative analyses below.

V. Reflexivity Structures

Metacognition. Another measure of student’s success is the degree to which participants are able to think metacognitively about their work (Perfect & Schwartz, 2002). Within QA, students submit their work online on a response page which includes two parts: 1) the response to the Quest, and 2) a reflection on their response. The reflection is prompted and guided by the following three questions:

1. How does your response meet all the goals of the Quest?

2. What did you learn about the topic and yourself from doing this Quest?

3. Tell the Council how your response helps the mission of QA.

We designed a study to measure specifically the quality, depth, and qualitative trends of Questers’ metacognitive responses to these reflection questions. Student reflection responses were gathered from 5 different Quests and were rated on a 5-point rubric with a .93 inter-rater agreement. The rubric was based on completeness, relevancy, number of reflections, and depth and complexity of reflection. A typical score of 1 would be minimally complete with only a single attempt to reflect. A score of 5 would address all 3 reflection questions at a level of metacognitive depth that is notable and that indicates that students are truly reflecting on how their work is connected to a deeper issue or broader context.

While both boys’ and girls’ reflection performance was found at the top and bottom of the rubric scale, girls (M = 2.88) scored significantly higher on measures of metacognition than did boys (M = 1.90) (t(93) = 4.23, p < .05). Girls’ reflections typically demonstrated greater numbers and depth of metacognition. The difference between the two groups equates to an entire point on the rubric scale, which corresponds to one standard deviation. In addition, girls on average wrote longer, more detailed reflections, going beyond the minimum typically required for a Quest. Boys were more likely to leave the reflection section completely blank (10%, compared to girls at 5%).

In a review of the content of boys’ and girls’ reflections, qualitative differences between the two groups were evident. For example, in one Quest about societal problems, many boys’ reflections focused on solving the problems. One boy’s reflection on what he had learned (question 2) read,

I learned that I hate smoking and I can make a good argument against it. Atlantis should have non-smoking laws too because smoking is harmful to everyone.

Certain social issues were too difficult to resolve, and in fact, many boys wrote that these things must be accepted. For example, one boy wrote the following answer to question 2:

What I learned is that some things in life just can’t be changed. With that I learned that some things can be changed, which reminds me of something; Don’t cry over spilt milk.

Girls on the other hand spoke less of problem solving and more of relating to the individuals involved, and girls wrote that they share similar problems and that the girls in the story were fortunate in comparison to others. For example, one girl responded to question 2 as follows:

When I did this Quest, I learned that Atlantians also had a lot of bummers too. I was sort of under the impression that Atlantians live in the perfect world. Now I know that the Atlantians are a lot like us. By doing quests I learn more and more that Atlantians are like us.

A girl who did mention solving problems did so within the context of talking about other people, not just solving the problem at hand. Her response to question 2 read,

When I was writing this quest I learned how important it is to help others, how much my family did to help others, and it made me realize how many things you can do to lend a hand with things in the community.

In sum, the boys and girls not only showed significant quantitative differences in their metacognitive performance, they also show qualitatively different foci within their reflections.

Transactive Interactions. Here, we present an extended case study of one student to show how, through participation in QA, she came to better understand her own behavior while at the same time transforming the Quest Atlantis context. Mary, an eleven-year-old child attending elementary school in a suburban Midwestern town, was considered somewhat of a “trouble maker” by the teacher and had consistently lower grades than her classmates. Still, she was outgoing and had two or three girlfriends who were considered popular in the class. Mary first came to our attention when another teacher reported that she was bullying a student in her class. More specifically, Mary had learned that she could get more QA points by finding someone else to sign up for her Guild and having them choose her as mentor. Below is an excerpt of the reported incident.

Mary: sadie just please do what i say

Sadie: but i just dont know

Amy: PLEASE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Mary: listen to what i am saying


Amy: PLEASE LISTEN TO HER!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Sadie: i dont want to do it!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Mary: WHY

Sadie: im trying to work on a quest

Mary: okay then bye

Mary: letas go amee

Sadie: r u leaving

Sadie: fine bye

Mary: yeah cuz ur not going to do it. if u do then for a mentor highlight my

Following this incident, the mother of the bullied student, Sadie, called Mary at home and told her how inappropriate her behavior was, and Mary began to cry, claiming that she did not mean anything by her behavior.

The next day, the teacher pulled the class aside and told them that two students (Mary and Amy) were banned from QA because of their bullying behavior. In response to this incident, their class created a list of rules that later became known as I-BURST, an acronym representing particular forms of appropriate behavior. Though designed specifically for this class, the list was adopted by another classroom in the school, and a suggestion was even sent to the QA project team to implement the rules more widely. Following this suggestion, the I-BURST rules were posted in the 3D environment and began to establish a norm for behavior: for example, responding to some bad language, one student typed in the chat space, “QA is not supposed to be used for swearing…. Please review the I BURST chat rules.”

Further, Mary herself was given the opportunity to rejoin QA. Told that she could serve “community service” hours to earn her way back, Mary became a “greeter” in the virtual space, helping to make others feel welcome, and sometimes serving as a “monitor,” correcting them for using inappropriate language. After writing an apology, working as a greeter and monitor, and demonstrating a positive change in behavior, Mary became a role model in both the virtual world and her real-world classroom, where she was repeatedly referred to as the class leader in QA. For example, she was the first student in the class to earn enough points to purchase land, and she even built rooms for many of her friends and for an Australian girl who did not have enough funds to purchase land for herself. Mary also completed a number of academic Quests of her own volition. Demonstrating her pride in this transformation, when we visited her classroom, Mary told us how her house had evolved, and she proudly mentioned that her name was displayed on the wall. She discussed her contributions to her Guild and even printed out exciting chats and emails representing her online participation. Mary’s transformation was plainly evident. Indeed, her teacher commented, “I even see changes in the classroom, where she is so much more helpful to other students,” and, in an interview, Mary herself stated, “I think I have changed in that I am a lot more helpful both in QA and out. I really try to correct others when they don’t use the rules.” Significantly, these “rules” are the I-BURST rules that her own behavior stimulated and that she in fact helped to create.

We share this as an illustration of the transactions among the QA structures and individual members, with each affecting and being affected by the other. At other times, the impact was not so dramatic: for example, a Quester might simply post some text or greet another Quester. Still, because all participation—and even one’s online identity—are reified into data, Questers can reflect on their participation and their individual trajectories in ways that allow them to evolve their online identity, shaping these personae and their participation in ways that align with that which they want to portray.


Given the fact that videogames engage users in rich (discursive, problem solving, inquiry, and collaborative) practices, that early videogame experience has been linked to greater comfort in using computers, that videogames represent one of the principal “storytellers” for children in the 21st century, that the content of these games is usually determined by commercial developers, and that videogames seems to be quite successfully engaging youth, we have suggested that it is a societal imperative to understand how to design games that engage all children. More generally, we know little about what a game would look like that would engage children in social commitments and academic content learning. At a minimum, we believe it involves fostering the same elements of motivation that game developers integrate into their designs and that have been discussed in the previous academic literature on motivation: challenge, curiosity, fantasy, control, and social interaction. However, we have also argued that it requires the design of a larger context of participation, one that involves going beyond the technological innovation itself to consider the larger context in which the innovation is situated and through which it takes on meaning. In our case, this involved developing a character-oriented narrative that included male and female protagonists, establishing structures that fostered friendship and social interaction, using bright, colorful visuals that contributed to immersion and engagement, adding interactive rule sets, and drawing on the complex set of motivational elements discussed above.

Overall, we have gathered much evidence that we have developed a socially-responsive game that is being successfully enlisted in the context of schools. Given our commitment to social responsivity, we were also interested in whether the designed space would prove motivating for both genders. We examined various structures of QA, and the data suggest that across the diversity of media, including those that rely on technology, girls and boys both engaged with QA. The identification of structures children found to be resonant, as well as their responses to these structures, suggest generalizations that may be useful to designers of virtual communities.

Both genders expressed enjoying fantasy settings: for girls, it was a fantastic natural scene, and for boys, a fantasy that harbors adventure, but the shared appreciation of other-worldly settings suggests the feasibility of designing virtual spaces inclusive of both genders. While the social, symbolic, and locally-customizable structures of the QA experience afforded many opportunities for gendered identification (e.g., avatar choices), performance (e.g., Quests), and interaction (e.g., email), we are heartened by the results found, ones that illuminate not simply gender differences but gender-specific benefits. For example, in some moments, contextualization in QA seems to have inspired more substantial engagement in academic tasks for boys than usual. In other moments, we see girls taking on substantial roles as community/communication leaders—across genders—in a complex, technological environment. This gender story reflects not the erasure of gender but, rather, a tempering of some conditions that often differentially support or limit the technological, social, and academic engagement of boys and girls. In fact, we saw numerous instances where girls were in positions of power, where they were the technological leaders of the class, and where they were considered the experts of the game.

While a more comprehensive ethnographic analysis is necessary to make substantial assertions, our analyses here lead us to believe that, in the context of QA, both boys and girls found legitimate avenues of participation, and, more importantly, neither gender appear to dominate the space. Instead, power seems to be based on the centrality of the individual to the community, with some structures favoring girls and others favoring boys, but with agency and voice being available to both. Issues of power are especially important in that they ultimately facilitate and legitimize use and ownership of particular structures. The more we are able to create technology-rich contexts of participation that help girls regard technology as supporting things that they value and spaces that they control, the greater opportunity we have of making technological spaces and participation become non-gendered.

We observed that the engagement of children lies in no small part to the resources, structures, and overall aesthetic that contributes to the QA context of participation. The network relies on various project resources—the movie-style posters, the novella and comic book, the trading cards and stickers, and other project resources—all of which portray girls and boys in positions of equal importance. Further, in developing these resources, we have worked to ensure that the storylines featuring Earth children and the Atlantis Council honor boys and girls equally. Coupled with these non-gendered or similarly gendered resources are a myriad of structures that appear to be compelling, although sometimes somewhat differently, to both boys and girls. Further, as highlighted in this manuscript, we have developed various participation structures, including those that support learning and achievement, identity development, narrative engagement, communication, collaborative participation, and reflexivity. With all that in place, we still monitor, participate in, and revise the community spaces, continually working to ensure that both genders may find equivalent agency and voice.

In reflecting on our development and those aspects highlighted in this chapter, we have highlighted six affordances that were central to our understanding of user participation. Specifically, these include tools, resources, and structures that afford learning and achievement, identity development, narrative engagement, communication, collaborative participation, and reflexivity (see figure 4). Rather than representing individual elements, these affordances were considered transactive, collectively constituting the aesthetic and resultant ethos that is Quest Atlantis. This aesthetic was strongly influenced by our particular commitments and assumptions, especially as they involve education and social responsivity. For example, rather than developing a backstory that involved killing fictitious creatures, the QA narrative centered on establishing empathy for the people of Atlantis, using this empathetic understanding to examine problems on Earth, and evolving one’s character through sharing and reflecting on real-world accomplishments. For others interested in doing socially-responsive design work, we urge them to focus not simply on the technical structures and tools employed but also on the collective ethos that these resources are intended to engender.

Figure 4. Design structures affording user participation in the Quest Atlantis context

We refer to this collective ethos and the various structures and affordances through which it is implemented as the context of participation. It is through this context of participation that meanings are made, and it is this larger context that is too often neglected in conversations by educators about technology. It is also important to note that these affordances, our particular aesthetics, and the emergent ethos, while influenced by us, also transacted with those who use the space. For example, we witnessed the emergence of norms, values, and even reified structures such as in the case of the I-BURST rules, all based on choices that participants made. While technical structures might be less impacted by users’ actions than were formal or informal norms and rules, even those come to be impacted by user participation. In the gaming world, both sides of the spectrum exist, with some games having a very top-down structure that is pre-defined by the designers, and others having low levels of pre-designed space, with much of the game play being established by the players themselves.

While much of a product’s ethos emerges over time, one should not underestimate the role of aesthetics in informing the larger context of participation that is established. In other words, it is important to consider the packaging used to “market” the collective ethos of the space. Games that feature dark settings, incorporate violent themes, and objectify women, are likely to alienate girls from these early experiences with technology. Consider, for example, the success The Sims has had in engaging girls: we consider this in no small measure as due to its look and feel as well as its type of game play. To the extent that early experiences impact later life choices, as many have argued they do, we believe that educators have a responsibility to develop technological play spaces that welcome all children. This study highlights those features used in video games as offering a significant space for participation, at the same time demonstrating that it is possible to enlist this medium in academically and socially responsive ways. Our experience supports the value of the underlying goal of our work to bring together education, entertainment, and social commitment.


While few would deny that video games have captured the interests of today’s children and adolescents, many would argue against the positive value of the interactions that occur in these games for the children who play them. In contrast, many current games researchers view video games as quite sophisticated, offering a play space for rich discourse, engaged problem solving, cooperative problem solving, collaborative inquiry, and opportunities for consequentiality and the exploration of situated identities (Gee, 2003; Steinkuehler, 2003; Squire, 2004). We have further suggested that video games are significant spaces that bear a rich potential in education, not only in teaching such content as history and geography or such skills as navigation or resource management, but also in accommodating and even fostering players’ reflection on their game playing. When such reflection connects the gameplay with a player’s real life, and when the reflection achieves such a pitch as to build upon itself, then it can achieve a critical or transformative effect, giving the player a new perspective on the game, on real life, and on the role of identity in bringing the two together.

Our work indicates that through the enlistment of a game-based context (i.e., a context entailing a narrative history, a setting with affordances and imperatives, and role-play identities that give rise to player participation), we were able to successfully engage players in critical reflection in terms of academic content and pro-social issues. Still, even in video games with such a rich backstory, the backstory serves to frame the gameplay; it need not be salient and perhaps should not relate to a player’s real world to be commercially successful. Indeed, two compelling features of games are that they are transgressive and they are not real. Even among games with backstories analogously or metaphorically relevant to players’ real lives, many players may not make the connection to their lives, so the potential of the game to support a player’s reflection on its significance may not be realized.

Relevant and hence potentially transformative structures are not likely to figure centrally among the developers’ concerns, so the employment of the structures to purposively occasion critical reflection are not likely to occur. For many players, a game must positively structure such reflection for the critical degree to be achieved. In our work, we have undertaken a design trajectory that conscientiously involves the development of an educational game with an explicit pro-social agenda. We have worked to develop the context of participation such that players are indeed compelled, if not required, to critically reflect on their participation and the world around them. In terms of next steps, we are currently integrating other methods used by game designers to engage players. For example, one current emphasis is on integrating extended trajectories of participation (affordance networks) in which the game play moves beyond the completion of linked Quests, and also involves game-based missions.

These game-based missions involve unfolding storylines in which plots are established, critical decision points are engaged, and opportunities to apply academic concepts to particular narratives are encountered. For example, developing a virtual park in which students interact with game characters, investigate various water quality problems, and use their emergent understandings of, for example, the process of eutrophication to analyze a water quality problem and propose a solution (Barab, Sadler, Heiselt, Hickey, & Zuiker, in press). Choices, such as suggesting the closing of the logging operation, might have initial environmental benefits, but also have negative consequences for the economic longevity of the park; thereby positioning the player in a storyline in which they are protagonist in determining how the story unfolds. The important point, in relation to this chapter, is the acknowledgement that digital video games provide an important experiential space for supporting meaningful learning, and that it might behove educators to understand and leverage this powerful medium. In this chapter we have demonstrated its utility for supporting academic learning in the context of schools, and for engaging players in significant issues upon which they are adopting and advocating pro-social stances.


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Sasha Barab

Learning Sciences

Indiana University

Tyler Dodge

Instructional Systems Technology

Indiana University

Hakan Tuzun

Instructional Technology

University of Turkey

Kirk Job-Sluder

Instructional Systems Technology

Indiana University

Craig Jackson

Quest Atlantis Project/Design Manager

Indiana University

Anna Arici

Cognitive Psychology & Educational Psychology

Indiana University

Laura Job Sluder

Instructional Systems Technology

Indiana University

Robert Carteaux Jr.

Instructional Systems Technology

Indiana University

Jo Gilbertson

Teacher Research Associate

Indiana University

Conan Heiselt

Instructional Systems Technology

Indiana University

Constance Steinkuehler

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