Wizard101 and the Benefits of Educational Games
In a previous post I discussed some of the benefits that can come from online games. That post was driven primarily by the experience I had speaking at a conference and being concerned that so much of the press and academic focus was on the potentially negative aspects of gaming. I was thrilled to read a recent article on Venture Beat where Dean Takahashi had a chance to have a conversation with Mark DeLoura, the senior adviser for digital media at the White House. I highly encourage all of our fans to read the article and leave comments as it is wonderful to see this kind of focus on the POSITIVES that can come from gaming. If you hear cheering as you read this it quite possibly could be me still sitting in my office vigorously applauding. 🙂 This has been a message I have been trying to explain to the press for almost six years now. Perhaps more accurately stated this has been a message that we have heard from our players for the last six years. It is wonderful to finally see a well-known outlet cover the educational benefits of gaming. Perhaps just as exciting is to see the focus at the highest level of our government.
One uphill battle I’ve faced in relating our players stories was “Wizard101 isn’t a true educational game”. I guess in the most technical sense that rings true. Wizard101 isn’t a “Math Game” or a “Spelling Game” that was designed specifically as a game to teach math or to teach spelling. Of course, neither are some of the games that DeLaura references including Mine Craft (a wonderful building game). But the root of that argument is that if it isn’t a game specifically designed to “teach math” then it cannot help players obtain increased mathematical skills and thus is not an educational game. That argument seems about as flawed to me as to tell a teacher it was bad to assigning Harry Potter to kids as a summer reading exercise. Harry Potter isn’t written specifically as a textbook to teach grammar or spelling. It’s not a technical book to teach English fundamentals so does it have no learning or educational benefit to the reader? I would argue that the Harry Potter series is a wonderful story that keeps people of all ages engaged, stretches the imagination and certainly helps young readers improve their reading skills. Thus, it has “educational value” to the reader. I’m not sure how many people realize the extent of reading in Wizard101 but there over 50,000 lines of text in Wizard101. I feel confident talking about the educational value of Wizard101 because of the huge number of letters, comments, emails we have received from parents and players telling us how much our games have helped them improve their reading, spelling and grammar skills.
It’s the same story with math. While not technically a math game we hear countless stories about how player’s math and reasoning skills have improved. The card game behind Wizard101 has a huge component of statistics and our players learn this as they progress. They are taught to solve problems, to reason out solutions, to understand which combinations of spells lead to the best outcomes.
This same concept seems even more so when it comes to teaching creativity. Is Wizard101 technically an art game? Nope. But tell that to the thousands of fans who’s art submissions we receive (we have entire walls in our office decorated with fan art). How about to the players that have written thousands of pages of creative stories inspired by Wizard101? In an era where programs like creative writing and art are being cut from our school systems our children need an outlet and an inspiration for creativity. Whether that is Wizard101 or other forms of inspiration.
There last area I would like to touch on that was discussed in the Venture Beat article is the growing opportunity in our economy and workforce for actual technical skills. Skills like computer programing, digital art and engineering. While games like Wizard101 don’t really “teach” these skills I think it’s very hard to discount that passion that can be driven by experiencing an amazing virtual like Wizard101. I firmly believe that many of the future employees in these fields will get their “start”, their “passion” to pursue those careers by engaging with games like those that we make here at KingsIsle.
I would highly encourage you to share your views on this topic. Clearly leaving a reply here is great but if you are willing, please go to the Venture Beat article and leave a reply. Perhaps Mark DeLoura will read your comment and help him continue to position the values of these types of games at the highest levels. Who knows, maybe if enough positive comments are left President Obama himself may read a few 🙂
Vice President of Marketing