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New Games for Education 2015


The Games for Change (G4C) Festival in New York simply gets better and better with each passing year. The 2015 Festival in late April included talks by game designer and educator Nicholas Fortugno, Pulitzer Prize winning writers Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn (the husband and wife team behind Half the Sky and A Path Appears), game designer/educator Jesse Schell of Schell Games, and filmmaker/producer Morgan Spurlock (Remember SuperSize Me?).

Games for Change focuses on leveraging games to positively impact society. This year, the spotlight expanded from digital and video games to explore large action role-playing games (An entire session was dedicated to “Nordic LARP for Social Change” – check out Inside Hamlet.) and the application of games to education (The live-stream of the Games for Learning Summit held in Washington, D.C. the day before featured executives from Unity, Ubisoft, Zynga, GlassLab, E-Line Media, and the U.S. Department of Education.) For the record, I’ve taught with traditional educational games like The Oregon Trail and Math Blaster AND I’ve taught with mainstream games. My preference for higher education is to use what the students play; in other words commercial and Indie games. In a previous post, I mentioned using Telltale’s The Walking Dead game to explore concepts like survival, satire, and ethics; The Assassin’s Creed series to dissect historical fact from fiction; Portal 2 to demonstrate physics concepts such as oscillatory and simple harmonic motion and Hooke’s Law, and Civilization IV to introduce the complexities of political, social, and economic processes.

Indie games highlighted or found by me at this conference (you know how it goes, you investigate one site and it leads to another…and another…and another…) include:

Never Alone

Never Alone is an atmospheric platformer that explores the stories of an Alaskan Native people. Developed with Iñupiat storytellers and community members, players act as a young Iñupiat girl and an arctic fox as they set out to find the source of the blizzard that threatens the survival of their way of life.

Potential course use: Storytelling, narrative, cultural diversity, and language. Interesting reviews found here.

Fort McMoney

Fort McMoney is an interactive Web documentary available in English, French, and German that uses interactive game elements to explore the development of the Athabasca oil sands (the third largest oil reserve in the world) in Fort McMurray, Alberta, Canada. The game documentary presents viewpoints of industrialists and environmentalists and allows the player to control a large energy project in a real-world setting.

Potential course use: Political science, justice studies, film and media, language, and sustainability. A good case study can be found here and a student activity guide here.

This War of Mine

A war game where players are civilians trying to survive in a besieged city. Huddled in war ravaged housing, players lack food and medicine and must avoid the violence surrounding them. As you can imagine, many life and death decisions must be made.

Potential course use: Political science, justice studies, history, and ethics. Read an excellent review here.

80 Days

Loosely based on Jules Verne’s “Around the World in Eighty Days,” this is an interactive fiction game. You play Phileas Fogg’s butler, Passepartout, and are responsible for his world-wide travel arrangements, deciding which cities to visit, the transportation needed, and interactions to be pursued.  Choices made by the player determine the success or failure of the journey.

Potential course use: Storytelling, narrative, and literature. High school lesson plans can be found here and modified for the university freshman.

Off Grid

The developer blog asks the player to “imagine a dark comedy set in a contemporary city, where a corrupt politics and lobbying by corporations has meant that privacy and data law has been eroded, and copyright has been pushed to the extremes. The city’s corporations own and scrape your data, and everything you say and do is recorded.” Hmm, not so difficult to imagine given Facebook, SOPA, NSA, Anonymous, etc. I first wrote about this game last year and hoped that it would have been released by now. Unfortunately, that’s not the case, but the website now shows a 2015 release date!

Potential course use: Storytelling, narrative, justice studies, political science, and computer science.

These games are just a start – stay-tuned for another post. Contact me if you use these games in your courses or need help figuring out how to use them effectively.