Video games are vastly powerful for their ability to immerse the player in an alternate sense of space and thought. To meet new creatures and species, explore fantastical worlds, and achieve great feats is a truly empowering experience. Because of its immersive power, video games could hold a potential for social sciences and global education in a way that no other medium has before. In past decades, educational projection slides with cheesy narrations and Ken Burns documentaries were the primary medium for any possibility of interactive exploration of history and culture in the classroom. All current school-age children are now “digital natives,” and all future students will continue to be so. How can we bring more technology and engagement to global education both in the classroom and out?
In the 1990s, the educational game genre geared toward the K-12 age group hit its prime, as home PCs with gaming capabilities became the household norm. While many of these games were set in fictional worlds and focused on math and reading comprehension, others were adventure games that showcased real cultures and peoples. Here are two of my favorites as a kid:
Carmen Sandiego’s Great Chase Through Time (previously Where in Time Is Carmen Sandiego?)
- Publisher: Brøderbund
- Software Release: 1997
This point-and-click puzzle adventure was by far the best of the Carmen Sandiego game collection. The player chases villains through history as they try to sabotage historical events. By implanting the information to solving puzzles in historical facts, the player learned some facts about various periods of history.
The ClueFinders 4th Grade Adventures: Puzzle of the Pyramid
- Publisher: The Learning Company
- Release: 1997
The Cluefinders was a wonderful series of puzzle, point-and-click adventures featured a group of teens who were ready to solve mysteries through reading, math, and learning. The 4th Grade edition was my favorite because of my mild obsession with Ancient Egypt as a kid. In the game, the team garners the assistance of the ancient pantheon of gods in order to rescue their professor, who has been kidnapped by a villain attempting to unleash Set, the god of evil and chaos.
International education scholar John Hudzik aptly highlighted the “inward-looking” American education system of the first half of the twentieth century, due mostly to the United States’ isolationist tendencies up until that point in history. Hudzik goes on to report how U.S. curriculum has grown to include lessons on our international neighbors in light of the transnational effects of globalization. While there is at least some inclusion now in public social sciences curriculum of other cultures and civilizations throughout the world, I argue that there is still a gaping lack of coverage on the post-modern states that these old-world civilizations have become. The average U.S. American fifth-grade student would likely tell you they’ve had classes devoted to ancient Babylon, but what have they been taught about its post-modern descendant, Iraq, outside of the context of the 2003 Iraq War? As I gush above, the Cluefinders Egyptian adventure was awesome, but where can I find an adventure, plot-driven or educational game about post-modern Egypt? The MENA region has undergone vast changes in every aspect of society throughout the latter half of the twentieth century, and certainly so in the last decade. The Arab Spring’s coverage through social media was a major moment in cross-cultural understanding for the world. People witnessing protests and revolution in real time through the eyes of everyday citizens; it created new connections and networks of knowledge across national borders. How do we better prepare and educate children to continue to open the lines of communication to promote peace and cooperation?
Until public school curricula are ready to answer this call, we should supplement our children’s education with games that further their global knowledge and spark a desire for global citizenship. They must experience other peoples and perspectives beginning at a young age. I propose the conscious creation of a certain type of game, which I will heretofore refer to as an inter-ed game. I use “inter-ed” to mean both “international education” and “intercultural education” because an inter-ed game could teach about the culture of a nation, a subculture within a nation, or a completely fictional culture that instead challenges the player to apply cultural analysis. I have no solid boundaries of the qualifications or features to be fairly inclusive of the many shapes and forms in which it could take. But the concept is fairly simple: games that showcase (post)modern peoples and cultures of the world and/or games that teach intercultural competence and global citizenship. These games do not have to explicitly focus on serious topics, as a culture and characters representative of a culture can be woven into most fictional stories.
In today’s global society, we need games that introduce young people to their international peers and their peers’ lives all around the world. We should have games that fully represent the current scope of humanity around the globe. Let inter-ed games help liven up the history or sociology lesson and motivate players to go out and learn more by traveling and experiencing other cultures in reality. Looking to the future, I would be remiss to neglect mention of the vast potential of virtual reality for social science learning – whether used to simulate the helpless feelings of an onlooker during an episode of police brutality or to put the player on the ground in Yemen with an average family experiencing the limitations of intensifying water scarcity. There is certainly a time and place for any type of educational game, in my opinion. However, for anthropology, sociology, history, and political science — namely the studies of people — the most comprehensive way to help students develop their own understanding is through storytelling and immersion. Let each student understand themselves better through the eyes of other cultures, thus gaining a better vantage point from which to manage their way through the modern, global life.
Pattie Umali is an international education practitioner and budding game designer devoted to teaching youth about contemporary cultures and peoples throughout the world. Pattie recently launched the InterIntellectus blog in hopes of establishing a forum for the exploration and discussion of utilizing the immersive ability of video gaming to enhance and supplement a learner’s global and international education.