Thursday, December 7

Federation of American Scientists Bland Report on Harnessing the power of video games for learning

The Federation of American Scientists wrote a paper on Harnessing the power of video games for learning. It is available here:

Predictably, it is filled with stirring quotes of intellectual criticisms of the current system, detailed modeling of the problems, and vague inspirational quotes of the future opportunity, all by comfortable people. Blah, blah, blah.

My first reaction is, does anyone have any sense of irony that this document has no sense of humor, interactivity, or fun? The form of this document argues for traditional material. I am not saying this document should be a graphic novel, but throw me a friggin' bone here.

I also think of my friend and colleague Graham Courtney who has deployed simulations both nationally and internationally, and to groups from academics to corporate to military. If I were interested in a pep-rally for simulations, I wouldn't let him anywhere near the room, but if I was interested in advancing the art, and the lessons learned from first generation deployments, I wouldn't think of a conversation without him.

But finally comes the real question: how do you actually, really, as-if-your-life-depended-on-it, make change?

a) Where is the pain? Who is bleeding? Who is the poster child of why the current educational monopoly is unacceptable?

The Quality movement, a great milestone of formal learning, happened because of economic pain. But if corporations and competitiveness are the issue, as some speakers seem to think, then why aren't more corporations using games and simulations, as they did with Quality?

What is the emotional resonance, such as the glaciers eroding in An Inconvenient Truth, for this?

b) Wouldn't it be great if the Federation of American Scientists adopted one simulation that they thought had the best shot of role-modeling this new model, and put their resources behind it. Instead of funding reports and conferences and grabbing some sound bites of smart people, what if they measured the before, implemented it in 10 different environments for three years, and then got an after? What if they invested in taking the simulation from version X to version X+1? (This last point is critical - educational simulation require new genres; new genres require a few generations to get right.)

c) What if instead of having traditional lectures, the theme and the structure was: let's produce something to convince people to use games and simulations!

There is safety in writing reports and having conferences. There is comfort in evaluating. There is comfort in asking someone else to change while you do not. But until someone says, "failure is not an option" then failure is inevitable.

P.S. Having said all of that, thanks, report, for the Virtual Leader plug!


Peter Isackson said...

The report seems to me both constructive and realistic. You may not like the result, which describes why the existing context (and economy) means that success is unlikely, but the same thing could be said about Bush's reaction to the Iraq study group. If the members of that bipartisan committee had picked up an M1 and started shooting "insurgents" instead of wasting time writing a report, would you be ready to affirm (the way this administration continues to do) that failure isn't an option? (Of course it isn't: no one opts for failure, but as Robert Burns said, "the best laid schemes of mice and men gang aft agley"; failing to recognize non-success can be delusional).

I discovered long ago that:
1) education and training cannot compete with other sectors of the economy (and especially entertainment),
2) the culture we live in is quite simply "competitive capitalism" (making a profit by whatever means); earning not learning.

Actual needs (and pains) are irrelevant when the only real need guiding where people put their money is the need to make a profit quickly.

Do you really think scientists have enough cash to jump start the market? Or was that meant ironically, as an example of the humor you accuse them of lacking?

Clark Aldrich said...


If you believe this is an accurate, complete report, then I will have to reread it.


Anonymous said...

Hi Clarke:

FAS is producing two games and one simulation to “produce” learning content as you suggest.

Immune Attack: Covers portions of the Innate and Adaptive Immune Systems and targets High school students; Discover Babylon, focuses on ancient Mesopotamia and connects museum pieces with library content and Multi-Casualty Incident is a simulation focused on high rise building fires.
Please visit:

Clark Aldrich said...

Hey Jeff,

That's fabulous. Not that you should care at all, but I will be really impressed when you not only have built them, but used them to achieve your stated goal (whatever that be).