John Hunter’s World Peace Game: Weird to Be Living What Sun Tzu Said

Being a game designer and social scientist, I am not trained in pedagogy but nevertheless I tend to design educational games more often than not, and I come across the perceived or potential benefits of playing digital games a lot when interviewing players. That’s why I visited the annual conference of the American Educational Research Association a couple of weeks ago. One of the things I brought back home from the conference was that some researchers in the field are very sceptical about using games from learning. This is of course a good thing, since scientists are supposed to be critical, but on the other hand I also felt that their scepticism was grounded in a rigid stance towards scientific research. I felt that such a stance was a bit problematic. In my opinion, the effects of digital games are best studied by mixed methods, which include both quantitative and qualitative methods, not just statistics but also observations and other qualitative data. In fact, the latter type of research seems to be the most suitable method to study games as learning tools, since digital games seem to be at their best when they are applied to teach so-called 21th century skills which are not easy to measure exactly (such as responsibility, flexibility, self-direction, social skills, productivity, problem-solving skills, etc.).

Arriving back home from the conference, I came across this wonderful talk by John Hunter. In his presentation, he shows us how he teaches children 21th century skills by means of a game he designed himself over the years. While the presentation is not a scientific study by any means, it does paint a picture of how learning through games can be very effective. The children in Hunter’s classroom are highly immersed in a game of international politics, in which they practice valuable 21th century skills and learn to manage a complex system. The highlight of the presentation has to be David, a young boy who quotes Sun Tzu’s Art of War – a book which I myself ironically learned about from playing Civilization as a kid. It is amazing to see how engaged David is when applying Sun Tzu’s teachings to his own situation in the game he and his classmates are playing. Of course, John Hunter does a marvelous job presenting some selected bits of video footage, and sometimes the presentation is a bit much (see “a colony of angels”), but this might be the best motivational video I have ever seen for educational game designers – and individual teachers as well – to design and use new educational games. Enjoy.

(The first part might drag on a bit too long if you do not have much time available to view it. The good stuff starts around 7 minutes.)