Sunday, February 19, 2012

Video games in Learning and Gender

Introduction to Computer Games and Games based Learning (GBL) 

A computer game, also known as PC game, is a video game played on a personal computer, rather than on a video game console or arcade machine. PC games are created by one or more game developers, often in conjunction with other specialists (such as game artists) and either published independently or through a third party publisher. They may then be distributed on physical media such as DVDs and CDs, as Internet-downloadable, possibly freely redistributable, software, or through online delivery services such as Direct2Drive and Steam. PC games often require specialized hardware in the user's computer in order to play, such as a specific generation of graphics processing unit or an Internet connection for online play, although these system requirements vary from game to game. 

Game based learning uses competitive exercises, either pitting the students against each other or getting them to challenge themselves in order to motivate them to learn better.
Games often have a fantasy element that engages players in a learning activity through a story line.In order to create a truly educational game, the instructor needs to make sure that learning the material is essential to scoring and winning.
Here are several elements that define an activity as a game (GBL): 
  • Competition: the score-keeping element and/or winning conditions which motivate the players and provide an assessment of their performance. Note that players are not necessarily competing against each other. In fact, a lot of games have players working as a team to overcome some obstacle or opponent which is built into the game.
  • Engagement: Once the learner starts, he or she does not want to stop before the game is over. Lepper and Cordova (1992) refer to this phenomenon as "intrinsic motivation" and ascribe it to four sources: challenge, curiosity, control, and fantasy.
  • Immediate Rewards: Players receive victory or points, sometimes even descriptive feedback, as soon as goals are accomplished.
These features are similar to those of a good lesson plan:
  • Achievement: Each lecture or lab is based on objectives for students to achieve: new understanding and skills to master. The activities and material challenge students.
  • Motivation: Science is about topics that are fundamentally interesting. Instructors further motivate students by stressing connections between the course content and the students' own lives and concerns.
  • Assessment: Strictly speaking, the reward for doing well in school is increased understanding and new abilities. These are represented in terms of grades and credits, sometimes more detailed feedback.

So the challenge for the designer/instructor is to combine the two in such a way as to enhance the strengths of each approach, to make learning fun and to make games more useful.

Games have many attributes detailed below that are associated with how people learn.

  • Social. Games are often social environments, sometimes involving large distributed communities. “It is not the game play per se but the social life around the edge of the game that carries much of the richness in terms of the game’s meaning, its value, and its social and cultural impact.”
  • Research. When a new player enters a game, he or she must immediately recall prior learning, decide what new information is needed, and apply it to the new situation. Those who play digital games are often required to read and seek out new information to master the game. 
  • Problem solving. Knowing what information or techniques to apply in which situations enables greater success, specifically, problem solving. This often involves collective action through communities of practice. 
  • Transfer. Games require transfer of learning from other venues―life, school, and other games. Being able to see the connection and transfer existing learning to a unique situation is part of game play. Simulations, Games, and Learning 
  • Experiential. Games are inherently experiential. Those who play games engage multiple senses. For each action, there is a reaction. Feedback is swift. Hypotheses are tested, and users learn from the results.
The typical college student plays an estimated 1.8 hours a day of video games. 

The US military uses computer war games for training for everything from high-level international command coordination to using a weapon. New companies are springing up to provide educational games for businesses for subjects ranging from technical training and sexual harassment awareness. 

Video Games in Learning from a Gender Perspective
The chart below shows the distribution of games in gender basis. This figure is a good place to set up the perspective we discuss the matter. Here we can see how each game type has a certain number of male and female users. So it’s clear that there is a difference in playing computer games form a gender perspective. Before discussing the learning we can look into the fact how gender represents in games. This survey is based on only Europe so when it comes to Asia and Middle East these numbers terribly change. 

I will discuss the fact with my personal experiences rather than getting information from online materials. I can mainly see several facts when I look into games I played in gender perspective. In first person shooting games I have played there was no main female character. Call of Duty is one of most popular game in that kind. Form CoD first release they have not added any female character for the player to play. But in CoD 2 I can remember in certain mission I heard female voice of a fellow solder. In fact there are many fellow soldiers. 
Most recent game I played was Dues Ex Human Revolution where again a male character is the main role. As far I played I faced several boss fights after each stage. In some stages the boss was female characters. One another thing I must mention is the sex appealing figures of characters in the game. And basically game is driven on the condition “finding the girl”. 
In car races the fact is same. Need for Speed has changed the gaming experience in their recent release of NFS game. In “NFS The Run” you have a main male character and certain situation you can control the character too other than cars. Here also you have a good looking girl helping you out. What we can understand from this is mainly games are developed for males. Which proves us that main target market are males. So the games females play are designed to touch the instincts of men’s. The main problem comes to my mind is weather females who play these games get the motivation and drive to play game from the game as I get as a male. Obviously most of them don’t. So I can describe this as discrimination of gender.
Other fact is how males and females represent in games.  When representing males and females we can see that they try to give more look of sex appeal.  In games like street fighter, tekken and many games we can see clearly how they represent the gender.
So what we can see clearly is when designing games for learning also we have to consider it from the gender perspective. If you build a game and expect from both genders to react in the same way or expect same outcome from both genders that would be a nightmare. Main target market for large game companies like EA and Activision is males. If you take entire world including Asia and Middle East you can easily understand the fact. So they specially care to add facts that can touch men’s instants to motivate and keep them in the game. In Need for Speed the Run I think it is the good looking girl that help you. So what I think is when developing games for learning the fact should be same. The developer should look in the gender perspective when developing games. In Sri Lanka we can see in Education there is some amount of female dominant if we look at the education sector as one entity. So a developer choose the ways of lager gaming companies do to apply for a  learning game for Sri Lankan education sector he would fail. So it is very important to look at from a gender perspective when developing games for learning.

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