Games that Can Change the World

I’m calling for investments in educational technology that will help create. . . educational software that’s as compelling as the best video game. I want you guys to be stuck on a video game that’s teaching you something other than just blowing something up. -- President Obama, March 2011

Computers and computer science are becoming ever more important to the future careers of today’s students. That’s one reason OSTP is interested in exploring the use of “games for impact” to address important societal challenges and opportunities—including in the realm of education. Games for impact (sometimes called “serious games”) are designed to be at once entertaining and engaging, and also something more: educational, enlightening, and perhaps even designed to motivate action.

Just as books and films can be used to inform and educate as well as entertain, so can games. Topics that may be challenging to understand through traditional “linear” media can sometimes be easier to grasp when conveyed in an interactive manner. Games can enable students to explore a subject at their own pace, allowing them to try – and potentially to fail – repeatedly, until a concept is mastered, without external consequence.  Through games, students can learn to navigate the rule-set and world created by a game designer, which can be built around almost any task—from stealthily outwitting enemies to solving algebraic equations.

Many current state-of-the-art games focus on entertainment more than education, but games show promise as powerful teaching and learning tools. Recent work utilizing adaptive learning games has demonstrated that such games can be effective tools for teaching children mathematics. Neuroscience research is increasingly identifying ways in which games can have a powerful positive impact on the brain.

Across the Government, agencies are already beginning to explore and develop games for impact. Events such as the White House Apps for Healthy Kids Challenge and the National STEM Video Game Challenge are helping encourage the development of apps and games designed to teach. Some recently developed games for impact created in cooperation with Federal agencies include the State Department’s “Trace Effects”, NASA’s “Moonbase Alpha,” and Filament Games’ “Reach for the Sun” (which was supported by an SBIR grant from the Department of Education).

As the game development, digital media, and education communities seek to better understand the promise and potential of games that can change the world, OSTP would like to hear your ideas and gather your input on what works, what doesn’t, and great examples of games for impact. We encourage you to share your thoughts via Ideascale regarding:

  • What are the great games for impact that exist today?
  • What new games should be developed and what challenge would they take on (e.g. health, energy, education)?
  • What existing research or games could be expanded or built upon to create more “impact”?
  • What dream partnerships between coalitions of universities, industry, researchers, practitioners, government and citizens would you love to see?
  • What are important policy considerations that government can impact?

Computer Science Education Week may be drawing to a close, but our work to find new and impactful ways to educate today’s students and solve societal challenges will continue moving ahead at full speed. 

Share your ideas about “Games for Impact” here.

Mark DeLoura is Senior Advisor for Digital Media at OSTP

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