President Obama Recognizes the Significance of Games In Education

“As game logics and play get integrated into everything from our living rooms to our work places, kids need to know how games work and to think critically about them.”

Before President Obama’s Google+ Fireside Chat a week ago, there was some concern amongst those of us who love videogames and think they can help us understand the world that Obama didn’t “get” games. The sparse attention games have received from him over his first term has not been positive. And he’s certainly wasn’t the only one who didn’t think highly of games. The truth is that from the outside looking in, many mainstream games don’t look intellectually interesting and honestly they often don’t from the inside either. (There’s a supercharged, masculine, and militaristic thing we’re trying to put to bed.) The result is that what games do well — and the things they could do even better — have often been overlooked by misguided concerns over violence or a reductive characterization of games as child’s play.

The good news is that things are looking up. From smart phones to Facebook to Xbox and from Angry Birds to Journey to the Smithsonian’s Art of Video Games Exhibit,  it’s clear that videogames are a bonafide mainstream phenomenon and positioned to be one of the most influential entertainment and artistic mediums of the 21st century.

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It’s because of this that we can’t afford to ignore their potential value in the classroom, and neither can Obama. That’s why in his Fireside Chat Obama pointed to computer programming and game design as crucial content areas for science and math education. As game logics and play get integrated into everything from our living rooms to our work places, kids need to know how games work and to think critically about them. What’s the best way to know how something works? Make stuff. And as building science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) interest in kids becomes more important, what better way to engage kids and form authentic relationships with STEM than through the playful act of game creation?

At GameDesk we’ve tried to embody this philosophy with MathMaker, a common-core aligned middle school curriculum that teaches kids game design while also ticking off mathematics standards. Having piloted the program already at schools in Los Angeles, and now launching a new iteration at our own PlayMaker School, we’ve found that game design in the classroom can productively demystify videogames and mathematics by transforming both into platforms for creative expression. With any luck, efforts like MathMaker will help young people embark on careers as designers and engineers  — maybe even game developers — and bring us one step closer to a world where everyone honors the value of play.