Ypulse Guest Post: The Integral Role Game Makers Can Play In Advancing Digital Games For Children's Health
- June 24th, 2009
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Today’s Ypulse Guest Post is from Ann My Thai, the Assistant Director of the Joan Ganz Cooney Center at Sesame Workshop and co-author of Game Changer: Investing in Digital Play to Advance Children’s Learning and Health, the report the Center unveiled yesterday at the Woodrow Wilson Center for International Scholars in Washington, D.C. We asked Ann to share an overview of the report and some highlights from yesterday’s event…
The Integral Role Game Makers Can Play In Advancing Digital Games For Children’s Health
The idea that digital games might actually help improve children’s learning and health is, in some quarters, a radical one. But contrary to typical media portrayals of games as a threat to children’s well-being, a growing body of research provides compelling evidence that well-designed games can benefit children. With innovative new game technologies such as the Wii Fit, and the broadening of game platforms available, such as social networks and mobile, the potential for games to support children’s learning and health has never been greater.
Unveiled yesterday at the Woodrow Wilson Center for International Scholars in Washington, DC, the Joan Ganz Cooney Center’s latest report, Game Changer: Investing in Digital Play to Advance Children’s Learning and Health, investigates how games can advance education and health reforms starting with young children. The report draws on interviews with 24 experts in technology, education, policy and philanthropy and a review of the current landscape, including an inventory of three dozen learning and health games. Game Changer calls for greater national investment in R&D to explore the potential benefits and limitations of games and offers recommendations for action.
Yesterday’s event featured a panel of experts from industry, research, and policy and hosted participants from these key sectors. The panel explored how government policy and investment could spur the development of more well-designed games to be deployed for education and health efforts. Sesame Workshop President and CEO Gary Knell shared how the 40-year old Sesame Street has entered the digital age, highlighting its “Healthy Habits” podcasts and health-themed video playlists and games on the show’s broadband site.
Panelists also discussed the current barriers to accelerating R&D for well-designed learning and health games and the need for the commercial games industry to participate in such efforts. Former Activision Studios head Alan Gershenfeld saw retaining the right talent to design and manage game production as one of the greatest barriers. He also outlined three trends he believes are fertile ground for developing learning and health games: embedding content in social network games; the “Guitar Hero phenomenon”—his observation that playing Guitar Hero could inspire and motivate players to learn how to play a real guitar; and molding and making games. Here he cited the example of Gamestar Mechanic, the breakthrough game design and research initiative by Gamelab, the Institute of Play, and the University of Wisconsin’s Games, Learning and Society Group that has inspired the new Quest to Learn school that will open in New York City this fall.
In order to get proven game innovations into the hands of children, a chorus of experts interviewed for Game Changer emphasized the importance of industry both in the R&D and distribution. Although the barriers to game making are diminishing with game platforms like the iPhone, it can still be a highly complex task that requires multi-disciplinary collaboration. As panelist Scot Osterweil, Director of MIT’s Education Arcade described, researchers that are awarded government agency grants are focused on theory, which does not necessarily translate into well-designed games that show learning impact. He called for more “design research” that focuses on developing smaller, less expensive, less financially risky games to test theories and assess the potential of games.
A fundamental question raised by the report is what incentives exist for commercial game makers to develop games for learning and health? The blockbuster success of games such as Dance Dance Revolution, Wii Fit, BrainAge and others show that there is a viable market for games that provide a blend of entertaining and purposeful experiences for players. A more coordinated R&D agenda could help pinpoint specific game features that engage and motivate children, as well as enhance learning and health outcomes. Real national leadership in this area could thus serve the goals of researchers as well as generate building blocks for commercial innovation.
The Game Changer event concluded with remarks from Congresswoman and Chair of the Congressional Entertainment Industries Caucus Diane Watson’s Chief of Staff, Richard Butcher, who invited the Cooney Center and other children’s digital media leaders to collaborate on designing strategies and convening forums to transform children’s learning and health. We will be following up on that challenge in the months ahead.
Ann My Thai is the Assistant Director of the Joan Ganz Cooney Center at Sesame Workshop and the co-author of Game Changer: Investing in Digital Play to Advance Children’s Learning and Health. Ann leads the Center’s strategic partnership efforts with high tech and gaming industries, and oversees organizational growth and strategy