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How Digital Games are Changing Educational Space

In our previous post on games and content creation, we touched on how Brown University Ph.D. fellow and rapper Enongo Lumumba-Kasongo was able to provide her campus with a new sort of communal space when she teamed up with the Brown Arts Initiative to present a series of concerts in Minecraft. With distance learning not going anywhere anytime soon, games –  particularly those with VR capabilities and simulated environments – are changing what it means to be present in a space. VR is becoming more accessible, with the power to enhance remote learning. The definition of the classroom, of learning space, is evolving (perhaps even pushing us closer to a world where the metaverse is a possible realm). In this post, we want to explore how we define and navigate spaces, past and future, big and small, from a tiny room to the infinite universe, and how VR and simulation games are changing these spaces for learners. 

Instant Intergalactic Exploration: VR and Field Trips to Space

An astronaut walks on the moon in VR Explorations - Space

In this age of VR, field trip destinations are limitless. A classroom, any room, can become the moon. Or Antarctica, or a farm, or the depths of the sea. VR Explorations, developed by Filament Games for client Publications International and distributed by CostCo, contains six hardcover Encyclopedia Britannica books, each book supplementing an included Android and iOS-compatible immersive VR experience. These experiences include touring famous international landmarks, the savannah, coral reefs, and more.  

But the benefits of VR don’t stop at instant travel. According to Shailey Minocha, professor of learning technologies and social computing at the Open University in the UK, research has shown that students are more analytical after incorporating VR into their education. Anna Alford, a primary school teacher also based in the UK, found that after her students used VR to experience history and explore space, VR learning also boosted their creative writing skills. Imagery, similes, and metaphors came to students’ minds easily to describe their new environments.

Art, Simulation, and Creating New Spaces

Museums and art galleries, while great places to learn, can also become microcosms for elitism and gatekeeping. Costs, nepotism, and gender and race homogeneity are several reasons why not all students may feel welcome or be able to enter spaces like art museums. Simulations and VR are tools that help to cut through elitism and exclusivity in art spaces. Now, it’s easy for artists to create their own virtual spaces and gain new audiences for their work with applications such as ArtSteps and ArtGate. Art lovers can explore exhibitions of all kinds from their homes with apps like GalleriesNow

Gameplay from Occupy White Walls simulated art gallery

via Occupy White Walls on Steam

Occupy White Walls, a simulation game available on Steam, allows artists and gamers alike to build a virtual art gallery. This free game allows artists to upload their work into the game, and contains an AI curator to help users with decision-making while designing their own galleries.

In simulated galleries, artists are in control of creating their own spaces and defining those spaces. Full of Birds, a 3D art gallery experience created by Ashlee Bird featuring the artwork of Sarah Biscarra Dilley “encourages the user to explore what it means to be ‘in’ a space, and how we, as Indigenous women artists, choose to maintain and recreate, or bend and reshape, spaces and places through our creation.” To experience an art gallery like never before, download Full of Birds on itch.io.  

Full of Birds simulated art gallery

via https://abird.itch.io/

The Environment and the Space We Live In

When discussing the nebulous and malleable term “space” in this article, we think of rooms and buildings, of intergalactic wonder, but we also can’t help but think of the earth — the spaces on this planet we occupy. How might VR/simulated environments impact a learner’s relationship to nature? Research suggests that games, particularly in VR, help a player to cultivate curiosity and empathy towards the land one lives on.  

An example of such a game is Along the River of Spacetime, a 2020 game created by designer, writer, artist, and Ph.D. Elizabeth LaPensée (creator of When Rivers Were Trails and other titles), musician Jordan Thomas (Exquisite Ghost), and translator Perry Bebamash. The VR adventure is inspired by Indigenous Futurism, and players learn Anishinaabeg land practices, ecology, astronomy, and quantum physics as they work to restore the river in Nkwejong (Lansing, MI) by activating stars and creating constellations. 

Another example is “an immersive virtual reality experience about climate change” created by the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) utilizing the Sony PlayStation platform, Dreams. This game allows participants to physically see their carbon footprint in a simulated environment. The creators hope that this new perspective on carbon emissions through VR generates greater interest and a greater understanding of climate change. 

Into the Past, Into The Future (and into the Metaverse?!)

Gameplay of Breaking Boundaries showing Marie Curie's lab

Historically informed video games allow students a simulated step into the past. Oculus and Filament Games’ Breaking Boundaries gives players an inside look at the lives of scientists Jane Goodall, Marie Curie, and Grace Hopper. VR enables players to explore each scientist’s real-life work environments and an up-close and personal view of their work.

On the other end of the spectrum, VR allows players access to spaces in the future. For example, the VR experience NeuroSpeculative AfroFeminismuses video, virtual reality, and medical imaging to explore Black women’s contributions to science while raising issues of identity and perception as well as the experiences of women of color through the lens of technology, society and culture.” This three-part narrative created by Hyphen-Labs and set in Neurocosmetology lab sends a player on a journey through the metaverse while exploring subjects of neuroscience, Afrofuturism, memory, representation, and metacognition. Tour the game with one of its creators here.

Evolving Educational Spaces

Simulation and VR games are changing learning in the classroom and at home. VR specifically is changing how students absorb information, as learning concepts transform into tangible spaces to visit and explore. A creative and visual aid, VR gives students the opportunity to learn by doing, to step into another’s shoes and into another place. Days of memorization and regurgitation on a page are over — increased engagement and empathy are just a couple of the transformative powers of educational video games. Easily adaptable to the ever-changing educational system, games keep us all moving forward and connected in shared space with one another.  

Take another step into the future of game-based learning:

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