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Games and Civic Engagement (MIT Communications Forum)

11/08/2007 5:00 PM Bartos
Mario Armstrong, NPR Technology Correspondent;
; Co-founder, Urban Video Game Academy; Ian Bogost, Founding Partner, Persuasive Games LLC
; Assistant Professor, School of Communications, Georgia Institute of Technology; Eric Klopfer, Scheller Career Development Professor of Science Education and Educational Technology

Description: Video games could transform the world some day, if only their potential could be fully realized. These panelists dream of a day when industry, politicians and game players themselves explore how this new medium can educate and engage.

Mario Armstrong has been helping middle school students from under-served neighborhoods develop their own games. Taking these children through the design cycle, from working on a narrative story through composing what's on screen, he -ties the development cycle to core academics." Kids learn about the x and y axis, and gain knowledge of geometry, Armstrong says, as well as the physics behind animation, and the importance of sentence structure.

The kinds of concerns they bring to their games initially surprised him. He had imagined storylines involving music and fashion, and instead saw -games about how to impact poverty, about how to clean up trash in my neighborhood, about whether to make a decision to buy food or pay the electric bill." Children want to simulate and master a complex world, Armstrong says, and -games create a platform they can relate to, where they discuss outcomes and rewards," and ultimately enable them -to talk about politics and civic engagement." At the very least, games are -a powerful way of shaping their exposure to making an impact on society."

The alternative to Grand Theft Auto lies with games that model real-world experience. Ian Bogost takes the complex issues we actually face, such as immigration, or the pros and cons of wind energy, or nutritional choices, and placing them inside the infinitely flexible worlds of computer games. By creating characters inside these worlds, and giving them choices, we might learn how to address policy questions in the real world. -I don't think games have to be fun," says Bogost, but there are many ways games can be educational. What interests Bogost is to -live in a world you don't construct, you don't choose, and understand someone else's perspective _ that's really powerful."

In public discourse and as a political tool, games have been neglected in favor of websites, blogging and social networks. But ultimately, Bogost believes, games may result in a more sophisticated citizenry. They can personalize moral questions, and lead people -to possible moments of questioning or reform," to a recognition that choices matter. Bogost believes designers of such games must push beyond traditional political terms, and create possibilities for people to see how policies work and matter -- new ways to frame public policy issues.

About the Speaker(s): Eric Klopfer's research focuses on the development and use of computer games and simulations for building understanding of science and complex systems. His research explores simulations and games on desktop computers as well as handhelds. Klopfer's work combines the construction of new software tools with research and development of new pedagogical supports that support the use of these tools in the classroom. He is the co-author of the book, "Adventures in Modeling: Exploring Complex, Dynamic Systems with StarLogo," and is working on a new book on handheld games and learning from MIT Press. Klopfer is also the co-director of The Education Arcade, which is advancing the development and use of games in K-12 education.

Klopfer is the co-director of The Education Arcade, which is advancing the development and use of games in K-12 education. He is co-author of the book, Adventures in Modeling: Exploring Complex, Dynamic Systems with StarLogo, and is working on a new book on handheld games and learning from MIT Press.

Mario Armstrong is the Co-Owner of Mario Armstrong Media, LLC a multimedia content development and technology consultant company. He is a commentator on NPR's Morning Edition and other programs. He hosts a national radio show for XM and two regional technology talk shows. On television he appears regularly on ABC2 News. He publishes a weekly newsletter, a video blog and is a contributing writer for The Baltimore Sun and various national magazines.

Ian Bogost is a videogame designer, critic, and researcher.His research and writing considers videogames as an expressive medium, and his creative practice focuses on games about social and political issues.

Bogost is author of Unit Operations: An Approach to Videogame Criticism (MIT Press 2006), and of Persuasive Games: The Expressive Power of Videogames (MIT Press 2007), along with several other books and many other writings.

Bogost's videogames about social and political issues cover topics as varied as airport security, disaffected workers, the petroleum industry, suburban errands, and tort reform. His games have been played by millions of people and exhibited internationally.

Bogost is currently co-authoring a book on the Atari 2600 along with a number of new videogames for that platform. He is also completing a game about the politics of nutrition, commissioned by PBS and the iTVS, and designing editorial "newsgames" in a groundbreaking game publishing relationship with The New York Times.

Bogost holds a Bachelors degree in Philosophy and Comparative Literature from the University of Southern California, and a Masters and Ph.D. in Comparative Literature from UCLA.

Host(s): School of Humanities, Arts & Social Sciences, Communications Forum

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