The Fine Print on Transformative Games

In our introductory video, we talked about transformative games and why we need them. In this Q&A segment, we’ll examine some of the issues raised by the video in more detail.  

Aren’t you overstating the college graduate problem? Recent articles suggest that today’s college graduates are no worse off than their predecessors and most are employed within four years.

Statistics don’t tell the full story. As the article acknowledges, its numbers don’t specify whether graduates are employed in their field of study, satisfied with their employment, or receiving financial assistance from their family. In short, they have jobs but might still be struggling  to find meaningful work or to pay their bills.

Young adults are still evolving and do not know what they want out of life. This is normal. The 20s are a time to explore and figure things out before the peak earning years. Some struggle is expected and even necessary for personal growth, but struggling without  the proper tools to improve one’s self is not only pointless, it’s destructive. Without skills and traits like critical thinking, love of learning, and grit,  the struggle can overwhelm some young adults. They often suffer silently, until the pain grows too great to bear. According to the CDC, suicide is the third leading cause of death for teens and young adults ages 15 to 24. For 25–34 year olds, suicide rises to second.

The tragedy of all of this is that there are many resources to help them, if they would only ask. Unfortunately, many don’t because they are embarrassed, too proud, or never learned how. It’s like tossing them a life preserver only to have them drown because they can’t swim.

This cannot continue. Every life lost is someone’s son or daughter. Every life represents years for time, energy, and monetary investment, and we as a society are left to wonder what could have been if only this person had lived.

Why should teachers be responsible for building character and life skills? Teachers teach. Parents build character.

In an ideal world,  this might be the case, but our world is not ideal. If we are serious about preparing our students for future success, it is time to acknowledge that some parents are either unwilling or unable to teach their kids these things. What is the alternative? That they learn from pop culture? Their friends? I think we can agree that school makes the most sense. Teachers are trained professionals, and kids spend much of their waking hours in school.

We know that teachers have a lot to do already. This is why we need to equip them with powerful tools to help them accomplish this task.

Like games?

Transformative games, yes. To be clear, we are not proposing a brand new genre. Transformative games are “educational games plus.” They are games designed to teach both content and build character and life skills. Also, any type of game can potentially be transformative: board games, video games,  physical games, etc. Each type has its strengths and weaknesses, as we shall see. Ideally, we would just talk about games without any labels, but not all games are educational and not all educational games are transformative, so this label is necessary.

The game medium can teach multiple lessons simultaneously because it is interactive. A game can be designed to teach a subject (say math) through story or objectives while challenging players to build character and life skills through gameplay. Contrast this with books and videos which are one-way mediums in which students passively receive information.

Do teachers really need games? Can’t they build character and life skills in other ways?

Teachers don’t “need” games in the sense that they can’t function without them. In fact, good teachers already build character and life skills using things like project-based learning, inquiry-based learning, etc. But anyone who has tried PBL will tell you that it can take a fair amount of time and energy to implement effectively. The reality is that  not every teacher is willing to or capable of doing this.

Games are powerful tools for the teacher’s toolbox. They do not replace anything already existing and most certainly do not replace teachers! If anything, teachers become even more essential as guides, helping students to reflect and internalize the lessons that they learned in the game.  Incorporating new tools can be daunting or exciting depending on how you look at it. The best teachers are always looking to improve their craft, so chances are, they are excited to at least give games a shot.

What is your goal with Transformed Games?

To transform lives through games. To achieve this, we must first convince people that  this is even possible by providing examples and linking games to the latest research. Second, we must create new games because we can only go so far by modifying commercial ones. Based on my experience in both edtech and education, I can say that collaboration is absolutely essential to make transformative games that work in the classroom.  Developers know how to make games; teachers know what works in the classroom; researchers know what skills and traits are most important; and finally students–the end users–are the ultimate judges of effectiveness. Each group has a vital role to play. That is our mission: to connect these individuals and, together, transform lives through games.

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