Video Games for Social Change

Contributed by: Marie Alcock, PhD

When is a video game useful?  When is it a tool for education?  Or even a tool for social change?


I enjoyed a TED talk featuring Jane McGonigal and her ideas about using video games as training grounds for saving the world.  Check it out here.

Jane raised some good points about the addictive rush from being on the “verge of an epic win” and the motivation from “epic quest” that is trusted to us as players.  What would we need to upgrade about our curriculums to get this kind of “epic quest” feel for the learner?  How do we make each skill progression for reading or writing feel like the addictive leveling of the “imminent win”?

The vision is of a student given “epic” tasks that are calibrated to the high end of their current abilities.  As the student moves through the tasks they are aware of leveling up and given feedback on how they are improving their skills.  This game is so rewarding to play and so clear about how close the student is to yet another “epic win” that they cannot put it down.  They are “addicted” to learning.

Those of us who played Mario Bros and kept reaching a little toad saying “Sorry Mario, the princess is in another castle” know the power of hope.  We know this addition and how hard we are willing to work to reach the stated goal.  So I ask, how clear are we about the goals in education?  Do we make if feel important enough to the students?  What would that sound like, feel like, and look like in a classroom?

The vision continues with video games in classrooms, or even outside classrooms, that help students build the foundational skills they need.  With great design and an understanding that these need to tap into the addictive qualities described by Jane McGonigal, we may have a winner for education.

I am looking for someone that can describe what it is like to play one of these games Jane has created. Contact me and let me know what you thought.

Marie