I have recently been reading WIRED magazine thanks to my Coke Rewards points cash in and found a really interesting article in January's edition called And Now a Game from our Sponsors. The article explores a new type of marketing technique called alternate reality games. Basically this is kind of a world-wide scavenger hunt with clues that, when sown together tell a story. It seems that these games aren't meant to be solved individually, but rather in a collaborative sense with the web being a key component to help in sharing clues and information. This is not really a "Virtual" reality game since it rarely involves being in one computerized world as some avatar, but involves using real world and web based clues to tell a story. Some examples they gave in the article involved a concert goer finding a disk-on-key in a bathroom that contained an unreleased song with the coded message. The message, once decoded indicated a cellphone number that, when called played wiretapped voice message giving the next clue. Without going into detail you can see how complex but engaging a game like this might be.
The reason I have blogged about it here is because of two factors: the engaging aspect of the game and it's collaborative nature. I wonder, as educators how we can harness that kind of enthusiasm to encourage our students to "find the story" in our work. For example, instead of the chronological march through the Revolutionary War, why not present students with the story of those revolutionaries by asking them to follow their story or to uncover findings? I know that teachers don't have the resources to make the games in the scope of those in the article, but I think there could be possibilities here.
Another thought I had was about using this ARG idea to explore characters in a novel. What if the students created their own kind of ARG/alternate story for a subordinate character in a work? Would that allow them to engage more in the text? Understand the characters better? Gain an insight into the author's purpose? Maybe.
I've often heard education technology gurus talk about using games in education (mostly in terms of simulation games) which I think have some merit. But I wondered how realistic it was to expect a software developer to create that Romeo and Juliet Simulation for the X-Box. With technology specific simulations, we are bound to what ever is being brought to market for the technology we have. However, if teachers could do more to create the game mindset in their classrooms, I think we would find student interest skyrocketing.
For example, I work with a colleague who, for many years, has taught Macbeth and Lord of the Flies by doing competitive group competitions. Students who otherwise could care less about Shakespeare or Golding thrive in these activities as they try to win "blood points" from rival "clans" to prove their knowledge and meet the challenges before them. (Thanks Meg for the ideas)
At any rate, I think this type of game model opens up something for educators to consider beyond the "lets play hangman with vocabulary terms" type of game. That's why I'm trying to play one of these games myself. I hope to be able to understand how they work and design a small one for the fun in hopes that I could effectively develop one for a specific educational purpose. If I ever get there, I'll invite you all along.