George Lucas Educational Foundation

Kurt Squire on Civic Engagement Through Digital Games (Big Thinkers Series)

Game-based learning scholar Kurt Squire explores how leveraging young people's interest in gaming could encourage greater youth community involvement and deeper connections to civic and political life.
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Kurt Squire on Civic Engagement Through Digital Games (Transcript)

Kurt Squire: When you're playing a game there's this natural inclination as you become better and better to start engaging in the world in different ways. Now part of that is simply to recruit other people to game with, right. So, if you're playing something like Civilization there's a point at which you need to have other players to kind of push your understanding, push your strategy, same thing in Guild or multiplayer games. What I'm most interested in though is this idea that when you play through a game world, let's say that you're playing as a roleplaying game and you’re a character who's shaped this entire world.

>>We are starting to see some evidence that players after playing games like this will start to kind of put down the computer or look outside and say, "Well, why are things the way they are? Why is the economic system or the political system the way it is," if you've been playing Civilization." So, what we want to do with educational games are design games that try to do that, but really build them around critical, kind of current issues, and then get kids to be motivated and have the skills to go out and start to solve these problems as a direct result of having played the game. >>I studied video games in learning and I'm particularly interested in how video games function as learning environments, how game cultures around them function, and then can we design learning environments based on those ideas. So, partly what we try to do is design games for learning, but then also design kind of social organizations around them. So, a lot of this is more than just taking games and trying to stick them, say, in a school, but it's really to fundamentally rethink how we do education. >>One thing about games is they're really good at peaking your interest. They're really good at taking a complex sort of subject area and then giving you a hook into it so that you find it intriguing and you kind of maybe see the puzzle in it. And then they're really good drawing people in so they become engaged and evolved. They're very immersive. >>The next thing that games do that's really interesting is that they actually build skills, you have to be good at a game. People who play games develop pattern detection skills, they develop problem-solving skills. You don't get very far in a game if you just think about doing one sort of solution path. You've got to kind of step back when you reach problems, look at what is the most ideal kind of solution, and then given what you're skills are, what is the best way to go forward. >>Kids in online spaces are really having the opportunity to take on adult kinds of roles and do a lot of complex sort of information management. If you ever tried to organize a raid and get a hundred people from all over the world to show up at the same time, on time, to be prepared, to have all the things they need, to not mess up the group, to stay disciplined, it's really a complex kind of activity, right. And there are 13- 14-year-old kids around the world who are doing that right now. >>In games you have the capacity to do all these kinds of things, right. So, you can get involved in this guild and help write the charter and kind of develop the rules. In schools, unfortunately, we still have almost all of that on either the teacher or increasingly the federal government, right. We don't say that, as kids, alright let's build your own constitution, let's build a charter, let's come up with your rules. Kids generally aren't running the school board, and that's what's happening in games, right. Kids are, literally, they're getting to participate and shape their own social futures, shaping the social future of their organization, and they're having a chance to do it. >>I think to me most interesting is when you see spaces that are cross-generational, right. So, if you actually see guilds where you have kids doing that, but then there's also grownups there too. And our society is really bad about age degradation. We have to say all the ninth graders can be in a room, not even ninth and tenth graders can be in the room. We unfortunately, if you're learning physics, there's one physics teacher and 30 kids. What's great about games is that there are all these matching of people of different abilities, different interests, all working together in this kind of ad hock way, which is how learning happens everywhere except for school, right. That's how learning has always happened before nineteen hundred, it's how learning will probably happen from here on out. >>When most people think about games and civic engagement they think those two things kind of have-- nothing could have less to do with one another than video games and civic engagement. But actually there seems to be a small, but important, relationship between them. And I think as educators we can leverage what games do and really foster civic engagement. >>We have a game, for example, called Citizen Science. And this is a game where you're roleplaying as an average citizen. It takes place here in Madison. And what you do in the game is that you come to learn that the lakes in this area are very endangered, which in fact they are. They may become eutrophic in a few years to the point where you can't swim in them at all. And so what you do in the game is that you're a kid who goes through a series of quests to understand what's happening to the lake. And then if you go through it right you actually change the lake and change the future. Now, our hope is that you play the game, you put it down, and you say, "Oh, well, why don't we do something about it?" So, we've basically taught you how to do everything you're going to need to do to change the lake. We've taught you what the root causes are, how the science works, who you have to talk to to get legislation passed. And so what we're hoping is that by the end we'll have kind of a mass of students who are interested in the topic, they feel empowered, they have the skills, and then they're actually motivated to go do something about it. >>Something that we've been seeing happening here that's really interesting is that a lot of the media messaging and the organization is being taken up, of course, by kids and they're using media to do it, things like Twitter. And because the social events and protests and rallies that are happening here have largely been driven by grassroots, it's largely been driven by participatory media, the mainstream media is not covering it, so we have the largest rally in the history of Wisconsin last weekend. And at best Fox News had one camera. CNN cut away for about ten seconds, right. And as people are realizing that okay, the corporate-owned mass media is not going to get our message out, we need other ways to do it. >>Woman: I think I would try and convince him to just negotiate and stop being so proud and stubborn. >>Man: I'd tell him to listen to the people of the state. >>Man: If I had to say something, I'd say, "As much as you want to deny it, these are your constituents." >>Woman: I would tell him he needs to stop and listen to the people of Wisconsin. Don't get me started. >>Kurt Squire: You see things like mobilization and using Twitter. You see people sharing-- producing videos and sharing videos to get their message out. That sort of instinct to do that I think comes in part from growing up with participatory media like games, but now a generation of kids actually has many of these skills and so they're starting to do it. And they're starting to kind of fill that void where other media aren't stepping up. >>A group of our students launched a website because they realize that information was really hard to get and it was not freely available in the capital, so they launched a website overnight that let you know where the protests were happening, what was needed, anyone could post to it. It was featured on CNN by the next day, and, of course, the capital had restricted access to it because it was deemed to be perhaps a little controversial. And this is something, as a gamer, people kind of actually do. They look and they say well where are the weak spots, what do we need to fix, and they are inclined to kind of jump in and apply their skills to try get something done. >>Well, a lot of the skills are really related to design. Really good players, if they're playing collaboratively, have to form teams, for example, right. So, they have to design their own team, they have to design their own kind of team rules, they have to guild, they have to write a charter. They have to build a website, they have to recruit people. So, they're designing their own sort of social systems. Now, the skills that go into that involve a lot of things. So, one is information gather and information management. So, when you're doing this kind of gaming you're having to monitor a lot of information streams, choose which ones you think are relevant, and then make decisions so to manage your own information flow coming in. So, if you're playing something like World of Warcraft, having to customize your interface to get the information that you need to do better is a fundamental skill, it happens in something like Starcraft as well. It's very similar to doing civic participation in the sense of what kind of information am I getting, where can I get more, what don't I know, what are other, if you have a strong feeling on one side of an issue, do you know enough about what the other side, say, is doing, do you know enough about kind of what's happening from different information sources. That's part of why I think 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, helping shape the world.
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This video was originally produced by Mobile Digital Arts for the New Learning Institute, from the Pearson Foundation.

Big Thinkers Video Series

Some of the most compelling visionaries in the world -- from Sir Ken Robinson to Jane Goodall to Martin Scorsese -- are focusing their attention on how to improve education. From innovative classroom concepts to suggestions on how to foster creativity and collaboration, they share their valuable insights for teaching and learning and illuminate new solutions to old problems.

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More Edutopia Coverage on Youth Civic Engagement:

Kurt Squire is an assistant professor in Educational Communications and Technology at the University of Wisconsin and the director of the Games Learning Society (GLS).

Visit the Big Thinkers series page to see more videos.

Comments (3) Sign in or register to comment Follow Subscribe to comments via RSS

Phylis Zimmermann's picture
Phylis Zimmermann
11th and 12th grade Computer Networking Teacher - Erie, PA

Thought this was a great video - I'm always telling my students to slow down and think - that's tough for young people to do - but now maybe I can steer them in a direction to think and game. :)

Lori Trovato's picture

I wanted to know what software did Kurt use to create the game that showed the lake that was in ecological turmoil? Would love to find an easy to create platform to create a learning environment such as the one he posted. Any feedback would be appreciated.

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