ARGs for Education

I wanted to see if any nonprofits were using alternate reality games (ARGs)–and take a look at whether McGonigal’s proclamations were coming to fruition. After a bit of time with Google, I eventually settled into educational games.

This is an area of ARGing I see the most hope for, to be honest.

Having attempted to teach for six months in the Republic of Georgia, I know the value of games in the classroom. It was often the only way I could get anyone to pay attention to me. If I ever tried anything else a student would almost certainly raise her hand to request a game. Finally, I figured out the only way to hold attention was to promote the game that I would end class with in the first few minutes before launching into a lesson. It wasn’t foolproof, but it allowed me to squeeze a few more minutes of focus-on-me time into each period.

Yet when I was a student, game days brought me nothing but anxiety. It made me nervous to have to perform well for the others on my team, publicly. So, what I like about the ARGs I’ve been reading about, is that they don’t usually demand public performance. You can play or log in on your own time.

Routes is one that does just that. It was launched in the UK and was live for eight weeks (January-March 2009), though classrooms can still engage online without the live component. The educational goal is to teach teenagers about genetics. But there’s also a murder mystery involved that requires web research and collaboration. This blog post made by one of the designers breaks the game down pretty well:

The site has apparently had over half a million unique hits. What I think is interesting is that only 40 percent of the players were teenagers in the UK. I suppose that’s still a lot of teenagers, but I wonder who else the game appealed to. Did the international gaming community catch wind of it and was it beneficial or detrimental to have them involved–as far as educational goals are concerned?

A really appealing part of this game is how detailed it is and how many different access points there are. A student can spend all his/her time playing the Flash games and they’ll likely still walk away learning a bit about the human genome. Or they can get involved in the murder mystery and follow the blogs of the characters who are trying to solve the mystery. Another access point is a mini-documentary starring a comedian who attempts to keep the whole thing entertaining. And when the project was live, students could attend live events. All of these allow for a different level of immersion and different ways to glean knowledge from the interactions.

And I particularly appreciated that the variation of interactive elements serve to bring in all types of students (a heck of a lot better than Hangman ever did for my Georgian classroom).

It’s hard for me to quantify how successful Routes was for those who created it. All the literature I found surrounding it seemed excited about it, and teachers’ responses I found were positive. Considering the incredible difference between a game like that and the lecture, notes, test learning I did as a teenager in science class, I would think that at least initially, this type of alternative would be well-received by kids. Perhaps they will tire of this format just as easily, but it is much more in tune with their chosen entertainment. I think there is promise in a game like Routes functioning as education.


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