Turns Out Virtual Worlds Teach Players The Scientific Method

from the well,-how-about-that dept

With so many articles trashing video games all the time, Clive Thompson (who continues to consistently write the most interesting articles for whatever publication he's writing for at the time) has a report about a new study that notes that kids playing virtual world video games are basically learning the scientific method, without even realizing it. That is, in order to achieve certain goals and milestones, groups work together to put forth a hypothesis and data on how best to tackle a problem -- and then when it doesn't work, they regroup, and change the hypothesis based on the new data. In fact, the research found that when looking at forums discussing the games, rather than a bunch of juvenile trash-talking (though, there was some of that too), much of the conversation would mimic the process of scientific discovery and understanding:
Someone would pose a question -- like what sort of potions a high-class priest ought to carry around, or how to defeat a particular monster -- and another would post a reply, offering data and facts gathered from their own observations. Others would jump into the fray, disputing the theory, refining it, offering other facts. Eventually, once everyone was convinced the theory was supported by the data, the discussion would peter out.
The researcher then takes this a step further, suggesting that one way we could revive sagging science education in this country is to embrace this aspect of video games, and get students to recognize that what they're doing is the basic process of scientific discovery, so that they don't think of science as being boring and irrelevant to their lives.

Filed Under: coordination, gaming, hypotheses, science, scientific method, video games


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  1. identicon
    Lance Bledsoe, 12 Sep 2008 @ 7:28am

    Original paper doesn't address the age of the WoW participants

    Note that the paper doesn't directly address the question of who exactly is engaging in all this scientific thinking on the WoW discussion boards. As one would expect, the researchers selected the posts randomly from one of the class-related forums (i.e., a forum focused on a particular character class), but there's no way to know whether the people whose posts were analyzed were high school kids or NASA engineers. The authors acknowledge this when discussing the implications of their work for science education and future research, noting "…we should ask ourselves how these practices are distributed across various groups by demographic variables known to be important, such as age, education level, and income."

    Nevertheless, the authors suggest that these types of games "might well be a worthy vehicle of learning for those who value intellectual and academic play" and that the games might also be a "viable alternative... to textbooks and science labs as educational experiences about the inquiry process."

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