Connie Yowell
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Program Officer
The MacArthur Foundation


Extending the Reach of Games
Respondent, Thursday (3:15 - 4:45) in Hall of Ideas F

This panel examines the ways in which both the content of games and activity of gaming can be seen to extend beyond the traditional boundaries of play or entertainment. Each of these papers, from different perspectives, provides as illustration of the ways in which the reach of games has been extended into the classroom, into management, and into government.

In each of these venues, massively multiplayer online games can be seen to exemplify, often times with the added benefit of time compression, many of the real world dynamics that affect and influence behavior and social interaction. In that sense, we contend, games are serving an educational function. They are, in essence, first and foremost, learning environments.

The argument we want to advance is not one which suggests that gaming or play provide a process or means for education or to enhance understanding. We accept both of these premises as foundational. Instead, we want to examine the ways in which current games themselves, particularly MMOGs, already contain valuable and transferable dynamics which have applications within the spheres of education, management (especially pertaining to not-for-profits), and government.

Our primary interest is to detail the manner in which games are already teaching and learning environments and to identify both how and what people are learning within various game worlds. Accordingly, we believe that by extending the reach of games, we can find uses for these game dynamics with the classroom, with situated learning, and within government, especially in the realm of public diplomacy.

To that end, each of these papers explores a case study or illustration of the basic functions operating within game-space that provide valuable insights into education, social and group dynamics, and conflict and resolution. Moreover, we examine the ways that games create action points and boundary objects that tend to ground conversation around the edge of the game. In such cases, it is not just the game play per se but the social life around the edge of the game that in general carries much of the richness in terms of the game's meaning, its value, and its social and cultural impact.

Examining how games function within a broader socio-cultural economy of meaning, identity, and action, we demonstrate the value of gaming both by looking inward to detail how the dynamics of play mirror real-life social interaction, as well as by projecting outward toward the possibilities of using games to solve real-world social and political problems and provide tools for education.

In each case, our conclusions call for an effort to further extend the reach of games, suggesting ways in which dynamics of play, virtual interaction and problem solving, and task negotiation can form the basis for problem solving and community building.

Participants Include:
Douglas Thomas, USC Annenberg School for Communication
Joshua S. Fouts, USC Center on Public Diplomacy
Stephen Gillett, Yahoo! Inc.

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