Crossing into the Virtual

As another semester comes to a close and students alike scramble to finish their final work load; one may inquire into how much knowledge they’ve retained over the 3 month study/lecture period. To pry further, one may question the student’s interest in their gained knowledge and how they may plan to apply it to the world outside the classroom. More often than not, the end of final exams and papers is like being released from the shackles of an inhumane dungeon of horrors. The supreme sense of accomplishment that should be felt in relation to higher learning is then lost to the joy and (perhaps alcohol fueled) whimsy of winter or summer break. All too often this detachment from the scholarly world leaves most information behind to be either rediscovered or overlapped by other intellectual pursuits. While this scenario may not always be the case; there clearly needs to be a reassessment of the way students are integrated into a post-secondary lesson plan. A modern and progressive solution to this dilemma can be found in the form of video games.

Video games can be an immersive and often popular medium for the generations which have grown up with them. Specifically speaking, the video games which provide cognitive exercises in harmony with an engaging plot have the potential to provide an unforgettable learning experience. Herein lies the foundational reason why video games can be an incredibly useful tool in a post-secondary classroom. The interactive nature of most current generation video games could definitely be tailor made to progress within the timeline of a traditional course syllabus. A game such as “Elder Scrolls: Oblivion” (which is available across multiple platforms), is a perfect example of a program which is designed with very open ended parameters and encourages interaction to progress a users in game character status. When applying such a concept to a class such as history; the possibility of creating a world in which a student lives out a historical era through a video game could provide a far greater expression of the period than just verbal lectures and still photos. As the used/student would interact with the accurate historical set pieces, there could be a constant incentive to progress their character by applying in-game factual knowledge to solve puzzles. Challenges which occur later in the game’s progression could reinforce the more important aspects of the targeted syllabus, while an option for side objectives could be pursued at the student’s option. If accessible, developers and teachers could potentially measure involvement in these side objectives and the student’s overall performance efficiency to develop more effective games and possibly even assign grades.

With the performative capabilities of video games and similar interactive software increasing at staggering rates; the ability to simulate most real world situations and theories makes the technology incredibly promising in many other scholarly disciplines as well. Entire works of literature could be recreated through the virtual medium; giving the user a more intimate and profound impact through first hand experience of the events. A current example of this is an adaptation of Dante Alighieri’s work “Dante’s Inferno” currently being developed into an action based console game. While the game is more-so designed towards providing fast paced entertainment over the contemplation of thematic implications and the like; there is certainly room for developers to tinker with the concept to provide a more learning friendly function. Simulations such as these could also be used in the social and political sciences to create more graphic and concrete scenarios which often seem confusing when explained within a text.

Although they aren’t taken nearly as seriously as they should be; video games are an enormously untapped medium for potential learning. It shouldn’t be about evaluating the current functions that games have on people, but instead should be how they can evolve the post-secondary experience. It will involve a transition from games that offer purely an entertainment merit to games which balance the act of entertaining and teaching. Learning is an act which is most often associated with curiosity and the excitement to unravel the mystery of life. If higher educational institutions are going to be able to produce future generations of luminous minds, they will definitely need to stimulate excitement through video games and other similar mediums. They must choose to embrace these new possibilities or eventually fall victim to becoming dated and stale.

Jay Buchanan

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