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What’s New in Game-based Learning – April 2024

Spring is in full bloom, and so is the educational gaming industry! 🌷🌱 As we kick off April, it’s time to dig into the latest and greatest news on learning games, serious games, and AR/VR for learning. From the depths of the ocean to the far reaches of space, educators and game developers are pushing the boundaries of what’s possible with interactive learning experiences. So let’s spring into action and explore What’s New in Game-based Learning! 

via Giphy

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From the cosmos to the high seas: how UW-Madison educators are using game-based learning (The Daily Cardinal)

University of Wisconsin-Madison educators are making (digital) waves! This first article details how the Field Day Lab, a research lab based in the Wisconsin Center for Education Research, has been collaborating with various departments to create free online educational games. This article covers a variety of their projects, from exploring the particles of the universe with the Wisconsin IceCube Particle Astrophysics Center to investigating shipwrecks in a marine biology-focused game

Just like us, the executives at the lab believe that learning games are a great way of meeting kids where they are and appealing to their innate interests to spark organic learning. Sarah Gagnon, creative director of the lab, told The Daily Cardinal, “We know that kids are really into games, so it is a great way to speak their language.” 

But it’s not just the Field Day Lab making moves – this article also highlights political science professor Scott Mobley, who has been incorporating games-based learning into his courses since 2010. His international security course features a multi-day simulation game where students compete in maritime competition, applying concepts taught in class. Mobley noted, “If you see them during the games, they are engaged in heated debate. The level of engagement they put in beats anything I’ve ever seen in conventional lectures.”

If you’re a frequent reader of our blog, you’ll already know that game-based learning is a powerful tool for increasing accessibility, equity, and engagement in education. With support from organizations like the National Science Foundation and the Freshwater Collaborative of Wisconsin, we can expect to see even more innovative educational games from the UW-Madison Field Day Lab in the future!

Women behind Minecraft are building a better world through the power of play, block by block (Microsoft News)

via Microsoft

If you’re any sort of gamer or educator, you probably already know how Minecraft, the globally popular sandbox game, has been captivating players of all ages for over a decade! But did you know that behind the scenes, a team of talented women is shaping the future of this beloved franchise? Ă…sa Bredin, who became studio head of Mojang Studios (the developer behind Minecraft!) in 2023, is one of these trailblazers. She came into gaming through engineering more than 15 years ago and now plays a big part in the ever-evolving world game. For Bredin and other women at Mojang, representation matters. They’ve been the only women in meetings, and now they’re role models for early-career women pursuing paths in gaming.

Ada Duan, general manager of Growth Products and Partners at Mojang, grew up with a mom whose career spanned three decades in the U.S. and Asia. Now, she sees women making up half the leadership team at Mojang. Kayleen Walters, vice president of franchise development, and Annie Chenn, chief operating officer, both took unique paths to gaming. Walters came from entertainment and films, while Chenn studied subjects like urban planning.

These women are not only shaping the future of Minecraft but also building a more inclusive and welcoming gaming community. They attend Women in Gaming events, encourage women to take risks and pursue their passions, and advocate for representation in games and creator programs. Learn more about them and their careers by reading the full article!

Sea Monster: “Play with a purpose can change the world” (GamesIndustry.biz)

Our friends at Sea Monster Entertainment are a pillar of the South African video games industry, and just like us, they are on a mission to create games that make a difference! CEO Glenn Gillis describes the studio as an “impact gaming company,” working with big brands to create authentic gaming experiences and leveraging game-based learning to tackle some of the world’s most pressing challenges.

From creating games in Roblox to developing VR experiences like The Last Maestro, which helps those suffering from PTSD, Sea Monster is all about harnessing the power of visual storytelling and interactivity to drive positive change. The studio is also a founding member of Games for Change Africa, established in 2021 to promote games as a tool for social impact across the continent. Gillis is passionate about the potential of the industry to create economic and cultural benefits throughout Africa. In this article, he highlights the importance of demand-led projects, partnerships, and co-productions to grow the industry from the middle, rather than relying solely on game jams and hackathons. 

Despite any challenges, Gillis believes that South Africa has a unique gift to offer the world of games: diversity. “At its highest purpose, games and what we do really allows people to find their voices. And, in the long game of colonialism, we think it’s really important,” he says. With a thriving creative industry and a growing recognition of the potential of gaming, Gillis believes it’s only a matter of time before the world realizes the huge opportunities in Africa! 

Video game teaches teens to stay calm in a weather emergency (Yale Climate Connections)

via FEMA

As climate change makes extreme weather events more common, it’s more important than ever for teens to be prepared for disasters like blizzards, wildfires, and floods. That’s where Disaster Mind comes in – a new simulation video game created by our friends at iThrive Games in partnership with FEMA. 

In the game, players choose to face down a disaster either at home alone with their younger sister or while working at a community center with older adults. As the situation escalates, players must make quick decisions and navigate challenges like evacuation orders and power outages. But Disaster Mind isn’t just about learning practical skills – it’s also about building mental resilience. By offering advice on how to reduce panic and anxiety, the game helps players develop strategies to stay confident during stressful situations in real life. 

Jane Lee, the Senior Director of Operations & Mental Health at iThrive, summarizes the game’s empowering mission in this article as follows, “How can we empower teens to feel strong and independent and competent, capable, and also know that they can get through things that are really hard?” By playing Disaster Mind, teens not only learn how to prepare for emergencies but also gain the confidence to face them head-on. 

Gaming with a purpose (elESTOQUE)

At Monta Vista High School in Cupertino, CA, students like senior Nithya Appannagaari and junior Maya Pullara are discovering the power of video games to raise awareness about social challenges. Appannagaari, president of the Technovation Club, created Music.com, a music therapy app designed to support neurodivergent individuals. This app features tools like heartbeat detection for personalized music experiences and an interactive piano game to help users de-stress. 

Pullara has explored numerous games that touch on social themes, such as Papers, Please, which delves into the moral complexities of border control, and Disco Elysium, where players take on the role of a detective with alcoholism that results in memory loss. She finds that these games heighten her awareness of social issues and help her make connections in her history and literature classes. 

This article also spotlights the game Before I Forget, which details the experiences of Sunita, an older woman living with dementia. Developers Claire Morwood and Chella Ramanan consulted with medical professionals to accurately portray the condition, incorporating elements like post-it notes, jump cuts, and a confused voiceover to immerse players in Sunita’s world.

While Appannagaari believes that video games can increase the accessibility of learning about social issues, she also notes that they may make the issues seem less real compared to reading about them in the news or a physical book. Morwood and Ramanan addressed this concern by focusing on developing a relatable protagonist in Before I Forget, creating a lifelike experience that feels authentic and emotionally resonates with players. Check out the full article for more on Appannagaari and Pullara’s investigation of games as vehicles for social awareness, understanding, and change.

That’s a wrap on another month of game-based learning news! From academia to studios, passionate individuals are harnessing the engaging nature of games to educate, inspire, and drive positive change in their communities and worldwide. Whether it’s preparing teens for natural disasters, raising awareness about social issues, or building a more inclusive gaming community, these innovative projects inspire us and remind us that games have the potential to make a real difference in the world! 

So let’s keep playing, learning, and growing together – if you’re feeling inspired to create your own game-based learning experience, drop us a message for a free consultation. Together, we can unlock the full potential of play and build a brighter future, one game at a time.

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