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Learning Games in 2030 – Part II

Behold! A new decade is upon us, which means it’s prime time for prognostication. What will learning games look like in 2030? What does the future hold for our stalwart, frontier industry? Welcome to Part II of Learning Games in 2030. If you missed Part I (wherein we got existential and talked about mixed reality), fear not, you can find that article right here.

Without further ado, here’s prediction number three: in 2030, educators will utilize learning games to teach “robot-era” skills at least as much – if not more – than core subject areas.

Most K-12 schools divide the academic day into discrete “core” subjects like math, science, history, and so on; subjects that have reigned supreme for generations. Though seemingly immutable, these subjects are only useful (IMHO) insofar as they prepare students for modern life outside of school, which begs the question: what subjects should make the cut when basal curricula are designed for contemporary schools? And perhaps more to the point, what subjects will best prepare learners for the workforce of the future? Allan Collins’ book What’s Worth Teaching?: Rethinking Curriculum in the Age of Technology is a must-read if these questions interest you. Also check out Kai-Fu Lee’s AI Superpowers, in which Kai-Fu predicts that machines will usurp 50% of current jobs within 15 years.

As automation and machine learning gain momentum, a growing number of educators are realizing the importance of teaching uniquely human skills. These “robot-era” skills include problem solving, collaboration, and systems thinking; skills that video games are naturally and uniquely suited to teach. Indeed, video games at large (not just learning games) have been demanding these types of skills from players for decades.

Schools are notoriously slow to adopt new technologies…until there’s a compelling need and a conspicuous lack of incumbent solutions, that is. Though quiz and practice games are widely used in grades K through 5, long-form learning games that leverage the medium to its full potential are rare in K-12. There are many reasons for this – including switching costs, lack of hardware/literacy/time, testing pressure, and so on – but here’s the goliath: core subjects (where most school dollars are spent) are thoroughly served by extant curriculum solutions. This partially explains why iCivics has been successful to the tune of more than 100 million plays: civics educators are notoriously underserved by traditional curriculum providers. It stands to reason, then, that a curricular shift from traditional core subjects to 21st century or “uniquely human” robot-era skills could create ideal conditions for learning game adoption in schools.

Prediction number four: esports will pave the way for learning games in schools.

I know this sounds weird, but hear me out. Esports programs are becoming increasingly commonplace in schools, taking their place alongside traditional sports programs (see Jason Engerman’s work for a deeper discussion of institutional esports). More esports programs in schools means more gaming hardware in schools, along with increased literacy and comfort around gaming as both a medium and culture among students and faculty alike.

Initially, school esports programs will strictly utilize popular/conventional esports titles like League of Legends and DOTA 2. Eventually, however, due to their proximity to daytime academic activities, esports will begin to serve double-duty as extracurricular and educational experiences. Educators will gradually realize that any competition-oriented video game can be utilized for esports, including titles that have intrinsic educational value. Among other benefits, this will help ease the age-old tension between sports and academics wherein athletes feel torn between two different and often conflicting performance objectives.

To the extent that robotics programs like FIRST and VEX can be called sports, this model is already proven. Robotics programs are essentially extracurricular educational experiences rendered as competitive sporting activities. If esports plots a similar course, it could prove a Trojan horse for learning games in formal learning environments, gradually migrating from the arena to the classroom. Should this happen, learning games in 2030 will primarily be multiplayer experiences; a boon for collaboration skills and notable departure from the typically single player experiences of the 2010s.

In Part III of this article, we will explore distribution, production values, and AI. In the meantime, share your predictions with us on Facebook or Twitter!

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