"Everything I need to know I learnt from World of Warcraft": why we might need to start asking better questions about games, simulations and virtual worlds

ASCILITE 2010, keynote presentation

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Martin Oliver
25 September 2010

Keynote abstract:

Like many areas of educational technology research, a lot of the work that focuses on games, simulations and virtual worlds consists of case studies that demonstrate proof of concept, enthusiastic position pieces or success stories. All of this is important: we need to know what sort of things we can use these technologies to do, so as to build a broader repertoire of teaching practices. However, this kind of focus neglects a range of other questions and issues that may prove more important in the longer term.

For example, educational research about games typically emphasises the way that playing motivates players; it ignores how successful games (such as massively multiplayer online games) often feel like work, and it also glosses over the way that bringing a game inside the curriculum changes the way that 'players' relate to it. There are also inconsistencies in the way games are thought about: the idea that they cause violence is often criticised as over-simplistic, yet the idea that they cause learning isn't. In virtual worlds, opportunities to create new identities is widespread, but questions about how this relates to our embodied relationships are rarely asked. In simulations, 'realism' is celebrated - but this means that simulations will always be second best to actual experiences, and it ignores how groups can disagree about whether something is realistic or not. Across this work, the complexity of learning and teaching seems hidden by the desire to promote the value of these technologies.

This talk will offer some examples of work that, in small ways, try to engage with these kinds of issue. Different priorities will be suggested, which invite a new kind of engagement with research and practice in this area.

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Martin Oliver
2:02pm 25 September 2010


This cloud has been set up to allow people to comment on the abstract, ask questions and so on. Once the talk has happened, the slides and references will be made available here too.

Chris Bigum
12:54am 10 November 2010


A few of "the game folk" talk about education as a game. Gaming the system is not a new idea. What if you did away with the labels and took a purely anthropological stance, i.e. what is going on here? Too much of schooling is about putting labels on things. This adult at the front of a room is a teacher. This small person sitting at this wooden  construction is called a pupil or student etc. You can take it too far but it is interesting how much of the claims of what is educational and what is not is really a tagging game (oops). Now there is another idea :)

All good research, to me, is about asking better questions which is what I like about this abstract. There is also an interesting question about how such questions arise. Where do they come from?  Is it, as Bateson once said about bad ideas that we have an ecology of bad questions? "There is an ecology of bad ideas, just as there is an ecology of weeds, and it is characteristic of the system that basic error propagates itself."

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