Coming to a classroom near you ... Lessons in gamer culture - Playing news-based computer games

7th June 2013 at 01:00

Despite a growing number of basic educational computer games appearing in classrooms, teachers remain suspicious of the learning benefits of the mainstream video gaming world. On the whole, it is perceived that gaming's numeracy content is limited to "kill numbers" and literacy refers only to the teaching of some choice American slang, while the gamer culture in general is blamed for everything from unfinished homework to violent outbursts and short attention spans.

Game The News may challenge this perception. Although it is produced by experienced mainstream game developers, and looks and plays like a conventional, non-educational video game, its primary aim is to educate children.

Tomas Rawlings, founder of Auroch Digital, which created the game, explains that for Game The News, the developers see themselves as news correspondents. Rather than reporting via newsprint, radio, television, blogs or online news platforms, however, they do so via video games. The idea, he says, is to explain world news to children through a medium with which they easily and regularly engage.

The company has already produced a number of Game The News iterations featuring topical issues, such as the civil war in Syria, climate change, the child cotton-pickers of Uzbekistan and the horsemeat scandal.

For the latter, in a game entitled Cow Crusher, the player runs a meat-processing plant and has to ensure the production of 100 per cent beef at all times. They do this by hitting a button at the right moment to "squish" cows, not horses. Squish too many horses and you get shut down.

To explore the complexities of the Syrian civil war a game called Endgame: Syria was developed. This enables users to play out the options open to the Syrian rebels, with each choice producing different results.

Rawlings is certain that games such as these can bring to a child's attention important issues that should be part of their education.

"As developers, games are a natural way for us to express our thoughts on the world around us," he says. "If the word 'game' is troubling then we're happy for this to be called a 'simulation' or an 'interactive experience'. For us, the point is that we're using this medium as a means to express and explore the uncertainties of a situation."

The project is in the beta stage of development, with Auroch still learning how best to mesh mainstream gaming and current events. However, the idea is already receiving positive feedback on social media websites and from technology commentators.

The student dream of gaming being set for homework could become a reality.

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