While some of us may find ourselves letting our gaming lives slip into our everyday routines, I’ve often wondered what our gaming lives can actually teach us? This is a question that’s burned inside of me for many years now. I never understood why it was so easy for me as a child to completely memorize the entire layout of a video game, but so much more difficult to focus during class at school.

I always wanted to be on an adventure, rather than sitting in a classroom. Video gaming naturally provided me with all the thrills I would need: taking out aliens in Contra, stealing powers in Kirby, or just generally stomping face in Mario.

This trend of world saving didn’t stop in my early childhood. It continued throughout grade school, high school, and college after that. Even now, a year out of school, I find myself wandering back to go on that odd nostalgic adventure. If school taught me only one thing, it’s that if I want to learn anything I need to invest my time, but it’s hard to find the time to learn when there are adventures to be had.

Now, a woman by the name of Jane McGonigal might have the answer.

jane-mcgonogal-flikrLast month Jane McGonigal of the Institute for the Future suggested during a Technology Entertainment Design talk that instead of playing less games, our society as a whole needed to play more games.

Her stance touched base with a concept that I’ve wondered about for quite some time now: gaming as a learning tool. McGonigal believes that through gaming we can create positive habits in gamers that directly affect how they live their real world lives.

I agree, and I would even go one step further than McGonigal. Rather than transitioning gaming to be come a simple medium through which we influence the every day decisions that people make, I believe that gaming can grow to become our ultimate learning tool.

In her presentation, McGonigal touched on why this might be the case. Games offer immediate and quantifiable rewards for our successes in the gaming world. In the real world we just don’t get that immediate feedback. There’s no +1 intelligence for reading a book or doing my homework. I think games can provide this leveling atmosphere that real life doesn’t provide while teaching us real life skills.

Imagine for example a game where the premise is to build a house. I’m given a limited number of resources and access to some tools. My first project is a simple shed: I’ve got to make the walls, the roof, and create the structure in a way that keeps it from falling apart as I’m building it.

At the end of each level my project is assessed to see if it was built to code and I get graded. As I continue through the game I earn some points or money, which I use to buy tools that make building quicker. I can also invest in my physical attributes as I get more accustomed to completing certain tasks.

gaming teach

Each level provides a house with a new challenge. The plans steadily become more complicated, the projects steadily become larger, and with each added difficulty the rewards are greater. I acquire more money with which to buy better equipment, and with more experience complete tasks faster. By the time I’m done playing the game I’m capable of reading a blueprint, using my material efficiently, building to code, and have an understanding of the different tools and what they do.

I have none of the physical experience associated with building a house, but I have the knowledge and an understanding of the process. And as a result I will be that much better prepared if I choose this as a career in the real world.

Games are a tool through which we can teach people about new concepts and ideas. Currently most educational games aren’t fun, but if you find a way to make them enjoyable, you can definitely teach people real world skills. I think with the right ingenuity you can apply this to real world scenarios for most jobs. In this way gaming would be a little less about escaping the real world, and more about teaching people how to live and be successful in it.

The Institute for the Future is a non-profit organization that helps organizations make informed decisions about the future. Jane McGonigal directs game R&D at IFTF and her past projects include Superstruct and World Without Oil. She’s currently working on a book titled Reality is Broken: Why Games Make Us Happy and How They Can Change the World which is slated to be published January 2011.

Do you think game can be used to teach real-world skills? Would you play a game like this?

Source: TED, IFTF