Sunday, June 22, 2008

Summary of “Open-ended video games: A model for developing learning for the interactive age” by Kurt Squire

This article focuses mainly on discussing the possibility for open-ended games to become tools for both educating and interacting with people, be it strictly as a way to build skills or as a tool for evaluating society. This is done through looking at open-ended games as possibilities for a “designed experience.” Kurt Squire begins by pointing out several properties of open-ended simulations or “sandbox” games. He claims that the games allow players to develop “productive literacies,” meaning that they are able to use the game to “produce both meaning and tangible artifacts” (168). In this way, these games can be used to foster development in certain areas. By creating “targeted games,” programmers can try to teach new concepts, skills, or ideas to the players. In effect, they teach the gamer new ways to develop specific ways of thinking about the game, or the subject of the game. He continues to explain that these games utilize several different methods of game play to support learning.

From here, Squire move onto actual examples of using open-ended games to first learn about the way that game play can describe personality and differences views of society, and then as a method of education. This is possible, he claims, because these games are “more about inhabiting a world from a general perspective, which the player can play out in whatever manner suits his or her taste” (171). To this end, he also argues that these games say more about the players because of the extended timescale that these games are (on average) played for.

First, Squire describes the results of his testing of Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas. Squire seems to be looking for reactions involving the way that race, gender, and class are depicted in the game. He describes three different reactions and methods of game play, from three different groups. First, there is Honovi and his friends from an African-American community; then, a group of white kids from a working class neighborhood; finally, a group of high school age, economically poor African Americans. Each group produces its own concerns and methods of game play. Honovi enjoys customizing cars, and the culture of hip-hop represented in the games. However, when in front of his friends, he cares more about violent chases and jumps. The working class white kids say that they find the game to be a bit offensive in its racial stereotypes. And the final group says that the game presents an unrealistic idea of class mobility, and that the idea that a video game could cause the violence they see in their neighborhoods ignoring larger social issues. From these results, Squire concludes that the there is no one true experience for playing GTA: San Andreas, but instead that different versions of the game exists for different players within different sociological groups. He writes that in essence “Players learn the rules of the system, using them as a backdrop to play off of, a context to perform within, rather than as a stable system of meaning that they’re ‘inculcated’” (178) with. The game becomes one of “possibility spaces,” for both the intellect and identity of the player.

Squire’s second subject for testing is the educational value of historical open-ended games, such as Civilization. He uses the third game in the series as a tool for teaching students about geography, politics, and history. First, he notes that the play style of the players, like in GTA: San Andreas, cause an individual experience of game play to exist for each student. After his tests, certain students took away from the experience different things than others. Many gained a better knowledge of world geography. Others walked away believing that all of civilization has acted according to a series of patterns, based upon lines of money, imperialism, geographic location, and natural resources. Judging on what each student walked away with, one could begin to understand where a person’s true interests lie.

The last section of his article centers on the Apolyton University. The school, run by students for students, where the core mode of education takes place using games like Civilization. The school claimed that these games foster the student’s abilities to analyze situations and come up with creative ways of solving problems. From here, he moves to his final conclusions about the way that these games turn “players to producers” (187). The games become individual exercises and experiences in learning, identity, and assessment of values. The players find themselves more interested in certain aspects of the games, such as Jason, who went so far as to study the culture of Scandinavia so as to better understand their role in the game Civilization III. In the end, he cites that open-ended games are still in their early stages, and as such we remain in the early stages of finding ways to analyze ways in which these games can be used as tools for growth and learning. He however cites the hope that eventually they will help students, teachers, and players in general better reflect upon the ways that they can “teach themselves to learn” (193), which was the overall goal of the exercise involving Civilization.


Eric M said...

I thought the question posed by Professor Downey at the end of class was very thought-provoking. Do games really foster a learning environment if we don't have the educator (in this article Kurt Squire) right there with us to point these things out and discuss them with us? That is an interesting question. When I play Madden, I don't think about the coordination that goes with it or the strategy involved in an educational way. I just think about it because I need to to win. As I'm playing a game, I don't really think about what I'm learning and I think that's why educators like Squire pointing those things out is very beneficial. But of course, we all don't have educators right there with us when we play games. So without educators, are these games really fostering a learning environment? I would tend to think not, but it will be interesting to see further research in that area.

Sarah. R. said...

Well, in that regard, a game _can_ really just be a game - or it can be more, but intentionality seems to be a key component to whether or not a mainstream commercial game can really be purposed to a learning environment.

rtaylor said...

Playing games such as GTA: San Andreas gives users a very unique experience. The user has a lots of freedom within the game, decisions to complete subtasks, or create havoc. I have yet to play a game with this freeness that actually would have any educational purpose, but I do not think that education can happen without reflection. Going through a more problem solving game than GTA: San Andreas probably results in better transferable skills if any at all, but without reflecting on what a player has just done I do not think educational benefits can happen.

Nick S said...

The part of this article I found really interesting was when he talked about Honovi and his experience playing GTA SA. He played differently by himself than with this friends. I remember doing the exact same thing when I had GTA Vice City. When showing or playing the game in front of friends usually I drove around killing and trying to find cool jumps, but when I played by myself I did the missions.

Also dealing with the question eric brought up, if we really foster a learning environment if we don't have the educator, I still think from any game we can learn a ton, from vocab to geography or just challenging our minds by actively participating in the game. I agree with a quote from some guy in a movie we say, "I'd much rather have my kids playing video games than watching tv."

Jasun said...

I agree with Eric's concern about the role of the educator in the results observed. I have to say, having played all of the Civ series to this point, I have to say that I never really found that I learned from them or that there seemed to be a solid connection to the real-world.

That said, anything with even the potential to excite children about learning and school gets my vote.

Marlon Heimerl said...

The concept of ‘filters’ and how different demographic groups view GTA from different vantage points comes to mind while reading this article. The Caucasians kept to the predictable and well-treaded path of political correctness—arguing that GTA stereotyped people of color in negative ways. This politically correct path follows a logical route. In essence, it contends that GTA racially profiles minorities.

Meanwhile, the black male’s playing GTA saw the game as a copout, attempting to fit enormous sociopolitical issues into a nutshell that was far too small. (Essentially, they too saw the game as a different type of stereotype of African American’s in contemporary America.)

Money can't buy everything, though GTA paints a picture of unrealistic upward mobility, as people drinking double-shot, no-fat, vanilla-caramel lattés—‘hold the foam’—are depicted as welcoming neighbors to the newest resident: the muscle-bound, grizzly individual, western European or black, pulling-up on twenty-foes, blingin’ a brand new platinum grill, frosted from ear to ear with all the fixens’—“the platinum pieces, the platinum chain’s, the platinum watches, and the platinum rangs.” (Juvenile) Yes, in the dreams of a few pasty-white game designers, stuck to their pleather chairs with nothing but whitie-tighties on, un-versed in the starker truths that pervade the vortex of the ghetto.

It is interesting to see how these different demographic groups react to the same images. However, it is more important to note that both demographic groups saw GTA as separate from realityg

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