This presentation suggests that designing and building digital games teaches essential 21st century skills. When learning game design is informed by the aims and aspirations of initiatives such as serious games, games for change, games for health or games for teaching and learning students can be better prepared to compete in the global economy and to contribute to society as responsible citizens. The American Association of Colleges & Universities (AAC&U) both defines what is a liberal education and articulates a set of “Essential Learning Outcomes (ELO’s)” 1 that can be achieved through a liberal education. Designing and building games employs many if not most of these essential 21st Century skills that contribute to the ELO’s. Teaching and learning game design is a liberal education in action.
This presentation will also compare select essential learning outcomes as defined by the AAC&U to the skillsets that industry employers look for in candidates. The AAC&U defines a liberal education as “an approach to college learning that empowers individuals and prepares them to deal with complexity, diversity, and change. This approach emphasizes broad knowledge of the wider world (e.g., science, culture, and society) as well as in-depth achievement in a specific field of interest. It helps students develop a sense of social responsibility; strong intellectual and practical skills that span all major fields of study, such as communication, analytical, and problem-solving skills; and the demonstrated ability to apply knowledge and skills in real-world settings” and “[t]oday, a liberal education usually includes a general education curriculum that provides broad learning in multiple disciplines and ways of knowing, along with more in-depth study in a major.” 2 Elsewhere the AAC&U observes that “A liberal education is a practical education because it develops just those capacities needed by every thinking adult: analytical skills, effective communication, practical intelligence, ethical judgment, and social responsibility.”3 The AAC&U further argues that it is both a moral obligation and a civic duty to adequately prepare students with the needed skills to be productive and engaged citizens in order to contribute to the nation’s democratic vitality and economic growth.
Building games is learning-by-doing and at the same time demands higher order thinking. From inspiration to implementation through the methodology of test and iterate game design requires analytical thinking and practical problem solving. When students realize that games can be viewed as systems that run simulations they become more receptive to designing games that address serious topics beyond pure entertainment.
Examples at this author’s institution include student designed that teach principles of arterial blood gases and pharmacology to Nursing students. The Games for Change Festival is a prominent example of an annual event that celebrates the potential for games to address serious issues and make a difference. Games as simulations can in principle simulate anything. Thus the games for change movement promotes games that address serious social, economic and health issues. Half the sky movement: Turing Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide (n.d.) is a book, a primetime public television series, a game, a website and is an international movement. This game developed by Frima Studio is based on the book of the same name Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide (Kristof & WuDunn, 2009). Players are invited to: “[t]o move through a series of quests and stories related to real-world challenges that women and girls face, with issue-specific solutions provided by seven non-profit organizations: The Fistula Foundation, GEMS, Heifer International, ONE, Room to Read, United Nations Foundation, and World Vision.” This game and others like it foster the goals of “intercultural knowledge and competence” and engage the player in “ethical reasoning”. Playing such games may lead to further reflection possibly inspiring action that leads to change.
In designing a system, a game designer addresses new challenges, learns new knowledge and solves new problems. Games are a practical test beds for ideas. Either a game works or it doesn’t in two senses. Does it run? (fully debugged and/or playable) and is it fun and engaging while achieving desired outcomes? The skills developed through game design and development can transfer to other domains and disciplines. In this way game design provides a foundation comprising the skills needed for lifelong learning. Contemporary game design, by definition, is a collaborative process that requires the contributions of programmers, game designers, artists, writers, sound designers, composers, content specialists and often many others. Effective teamwork necessitates clarity of written and verbal communication. In game design, media and technology fluency are prerequisites to the field. These skillsets lay a foundation upon which to build essential life and career skills (resilience, flexibility, adaptability and self-directed learning).
Over the past decade the discipline of game design has been added to university, college and community college curriculums. This expansion of degree programs reflects the dramatic growth of the games industry during the same period. The Entertainment Software Association (ESA) reports in that in the United States: “the [c]omputer and video game industry generated $30.4 billion in revenue in 2016 (Entertainment Software Association, 2017).” 5 As noted above contemporary video game development requires a number of different skills sets from across the disciplines and the proliferation of academic programs seek to match the supply of qualified candidates to jobs demanded by industry.
21st Century Skills
The AAC&U (2007) LEAP report College Learning for the New Global Century promotes four broad categories of essential learning outcomes: Knowledge of Human Cultures and the Physical and Natural World; Intellectual and Practical Skills; Personal and Social Responsibility and Integrative and Applied Learning. For the purposes of this discussion it is useful to focus on the following two essential learning outcomes and the corresponding skillsets.
Intellectual and Practical Skills
• Inquiry and analysis.
• Critical and creative thinking.
• Written and oral communication.
• Quantitative literacy.
• Information literacy.
• Teamwork and problem solving.
Personal and Social Responsibility
• Civic knowledge and engagement—local and global.
• Intercultural knowledge and competence.
• Ethical reasoning and action.
• Foundations and skills for lifelong learning.
Similarly, the P21 movement (Hernandez 2017)6 privileges what is called the four C’s as building blocks of 21st century learning & citizenship.
• Critical thinking & problem solving.
• Creativity & innovation.
The prominence given by the P21 movement to these skills aligns with the AAC&U essential learning outcomes under the categories listed above. Many of these very skills are identified by leading companies in the games industry. Unity the maker of the Unity Game Engine published the Professional Skill Standards for Interactive Application & Video Game Creation (Unity, 2015). This white paper summarizes the following skills which are required to “successfully create interactive applications and video games.” 7
• Written and verbal communications.
• Information processing.
• Operation analysis.
• Deductive reasoning.
• Inductive reasoning.
• Critical thinking.
• Creative problem solving.
Rovio, the publishers of Angry Birds and other successful mobile games lists the following skills (Rovio, 2015).
• Learning to learn.
• Problem solving and decision making.
• Communication and participation.
• Citizenship and responsibility.
• Media literacy and technology.
• Collaboration and negotiation.
• Creativity and innovation thinking.
• Life and career.
It is noteworthy that Rovio recognizes the importance of citizenship as well as life and career skills. For Rovio, an employee is seen as a whole person who has a responsibility as a citizen to contribute to society beyond the workplace. Game design students should be mindful of the ancient admonishment to know thyself. They should take stock of their strengths and limitations, their mindset, aesthetics, tastes and predilections. To be truly competitive in industry and effective as a member of a team, game designers and game artists should engage in introspection, reflection and continual self-assessment while pursuing self-directed life-long learning across multiple disciplines. When coupled with the skillset imparted by a liberal education students are equipped with essential life and career skills. They are prepared to meet the challenges and realities of the job market of the 21st Century.
All play is political.
Berie de Koven
1. Association of American of Colleges and Universities. (2007). College Learning for the New Global Century. Washington, DC: Author.
2. American of Association of American Colleges and Universities (n.d.). What Is a 21st Century Liberal Education? Retrieved from https://www.aacu.org/leap/what-is-a-liberal-education
3. Association of American Colleges and University. “Executive Summary.” Greater Expectations: A New Vision for Learning as a Nation Goes to College. National Panel Report, 2002: 1-5.
4. Half the Sky Movement: The Game (2013). Retrieved from http://www.gamesforchange.org/play/half-the-sky-movement-the-game/
5. Electronic Software Association. (2017, January 19). U.S. Video Game Industry Generates $30.4 Billion in Revenue for 2016. Press Release. Retrieved January 25, 2017, from http://www.theesa.com/article/u-s-video-game-industry-generates-30-4-billion-revenue-2016/
6. Hernandez, Butch (2017, January 28). From the ‘3 Rs’ to the ‘4Cs’. Inquirer.net. Retrieved February 8, 2017, from http://opinion.inquirer.net/101192/3-rs-4-cs. Also see Dede, C. 2009. Comparing frameworks for 21st century skills. Retrieved from http://watertown.k12.ma.us/dept/ed_tech/research/pdf/ChrisDede.pdf
7. Unity (March 2015). Professional Skill Standards for Interactive Application & Video Game Creation. White Paper. Retrieved from http://capital.osd.wednet.edu/media/capital/staff/leduc/schedules/unity_professional_skill_standards_march_2015.pdf