Note: On Tuesday, April 28, from 4:30 to 6:00 p.m. ET, the Fordham Institute will host a discussion with Greg Toppo on his new book, The Game Believes in You, from which this essay is adapted. See our event page for more information and to register. All are invited to stay for a small reception following the event.
After decades of ambivalence, suspicion, and sometimes outright hostility, educators are beginning to discover the charms of digital games and simulations, in the process rewriting centuries-old rules of learning, motivation, and success.
Teachers have long used cards, dice, pencil-and-paper games, and board games to teach and reinforce key concepts. But digital technology, and games in particular, go even further. Because games look so little like school, they force us to reconsider our most basic assumptions about how children learn: What is school for and what should students do there? Where should kids get their content and how? How important is it that they like what they’re doing? What is our tolerance for failure and what is our standard for success? Who is in control here?
Even the electronic versions of games have a history dating back two generations. The eighth graders who shot buffalo in the first rudimentary version of The Oregon Trail—on a teletype in a Minneapolis classroom in 1971—are now old enough to be grandparents. The movement’s de facto vision statement emerged exactly twenty-five years ago, when an eight-year-old boy in an after-school program at MIT’s Media...