Kurt Squire on Civic Engagement through Digital Games

Kurt Squire on Civic Engagement through Digital Games
Are you aware of the popular game series named, Civilization ? I suppose most of you are. For the third part of the series, Civilization III a game-based learning platform was designed to study students’ learning in classroom.

This effort was made by

Kurt Squire , who is the director of the Games, Learning and Society Initiative at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He believes that when we’re playing a game, there's a natural inclination as we progress through it to start engaging with the world in different ways, or simply to inscribe other people to game with. So, if you're playing something like Civilization there's a point at which you need to have other players to push your understanding and strategy and the same thing applies to multiplayer games.

Squire, along with designing games for learning, also designs kind of social organizations around them. He looks for ways to use games as tools for producing authentic participation. So, he aims at designing games such that they follow a sort of trajectory, or path of participation, that someone can go through. Learners are first curious about the topic, then they want to raise their interest, the game shows why it’s interesting, helps them develop new skills, and in the end, advertises new things they can do. So when they leave the game, they want to learn more and get more involved.

Squire believes that there are numerous ways in which digital games facilitate civic engagement. Here’s the list of some:

  • Digital games build motivation and let you, as learners acquire the skills to go out and start solving problems that you faced throughout the game, as a direct result of having played the game.
  • They are really good at raising your interest. They take a complex sort of subject area and then give you a hook into it so that you find it intriguing and encourage you to see the puzzle in them. They're really good at drawing people in so they become engaged and evolved and are highly immersive.
  • They actually build skills, if you’re good at a game. People who play games develop pattern detection and problem-solving skills.
  • Kids in online spaces get the opportunity to take on adult kinds of roles and do a lot of complex sort of information management. Here they assume to organize a raid, to be prepared, to have all the things they need, to not mess up in a group, to stay disciplined and other complex activities which seem otherwise impossible.
  • Games let people of different abilities, different interests, to work together in ad hock kind of way, which is how learning happens everywhere outside schools.
  • They encourage you to play collaboratively and form teams. Players can design their own team with their own kind of team rules; they have to guild or maybe write a charter. Hence, they’re designing their own sort of social systems and fostering their own skills.
  • If you're playing something like World of Warcraft or Starcraft, having to customize your interface to get the information that you need to do better is a fundamental skill. It's very similar to doing civic participation in the sense of what kind of information you get, where can you can get more, what you don't know, what are other sides of an issue and more.
  • They let you grow out of the game experience and into deeper participation. Realistic games make you reflect about what you were learning, even after you’re done playing them.
  • They also offer participant and reward structures, so you’re able to achieve your organization’s goals and your motivation is not undermined.
  • Games are an ideal approach towards passion-driven learning. They tend to produce or inspire a type of passion, which keeps you engaged with your subject of learning. A sign of good learning through games is that, at some point people are participating in a broader game-based experience.

 As a designer, Kurt Squire doesn’t emphasize the game as a media or technological solution that is going to come in and fix your problems, but instead makes you look at how a game or an experience can cause a sort of disruption that shifts learning and look for ways to use the game as a tool for producing authentic participation.

Kurt along with his team has successfully developed mobile games, such as our ARIS project, through which kids are introduced to real-world organization and makes it very transparent and easy for them to contribute outside the game. They have also developed a desktop-based game called Citizen Science, which is designed to lead people towards broader authentic engagement. 

Along with all the engagement that games lead to, they also help understand the broader social changes and values that technology is promoting, and keep you encouraged to use new tools to reach old ends.It’s fantastic that people want to design them better and use the lessons of games to understand engagement to create more equitable and democratic modes of participation. It suggests that maybe we are moving from a visual culture to a more interactive culture.

That's all part of why games are such a key piece of what we call a participatory media, the idea that you are actually shaping the content, shaping the experience and helping shape the world. Hence, there actually seems to be a small, but important, relationship between games and civic engagement.

I think educators can leverage what games do and really foster civic engagement through them. You’re invited to clarify doubts, share additional knowledge or simply comment upon what you learned from the context. The Comment Box awaits you.

About the Author
Author: Saomya Saxena
Educational technology blogger, loves to research and write about tools and tips for educators on how to integrate technology into everyday instruction creatively and effectively. Fond of reading and writing.

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