Some educational games enable users to take action on global issue from within the game. Darfur is Dying, a role-playing simulation of life as a refugee, includes activism tools embedded in the game. Players can take action to help stop the crisis in Darfur by sending a message to the president, their state representatives, or by starting a movement in their local communities. When students practice their vocabulary—and now other subjects including math, science, geography, and world languages—on the Free Rice website they can see the bowls of rice fill up as they answer questions correctly. And for each correct answer, 10 grains of rice are donated to fight world hunger.
Other games rely on the players' creativity and collaboration to translate gaming into real-world actions. In eMission, a Facebook game from DoSomething.org, players compete with friends to see who can save the most energy. They score points in the game by reducing their carbon footprint in the real world.
As James Paul Gee argues, playing video games is an ideal way for students to learn collaboration and problem solving. World of Warcraft is probably the best-known example of collaborative problem-solving environments in the massively multiplayer online role-playing game genre. Players not only communicate and collaborate within the game space, they also use social networks, wikis, blogs, and discussion boards to mentor and support one another. And there are games designed to leverage the power of this kind of global communication and collaboration among players to solve real-world problems like poverty, hunger, clean energy, and education.
World Without Oil invites players to collectively imagine the impending threats of an oil crisis and use the "wisdom of the crowds" to develop solutions. With the tagline "a crash course in changing the world," EVOKE empowers teams to collaboratively develop innovative solutions to the world's pressing problems at the local level. Although EVOKE's target audience is primarily young people in Africa, it's played by people around the world. In ten weeks, players learn the ten "Evoke Powers" of collaboration, courage, creativity, entrepreneurship, local insight, knowledge networking, resourcefulness, spark, sustainability, and vision. Players develop plans and a real-world pitch for a project to make a difference in their community. Selected projects from the first season of the game have already been funded.
Most of the games I've described here are simulations. Having facilitated student participation in Model United Nations and the Global Village Simulation at Heifer Ranch, and after hearing John Hunter talk about the World Peace Game, I'm thoroughly convinced that simulations can lead to deep learning. Indeed, more and more professionals, including doctors, soldiers, and even teachers, are getting job training this way. Games and simulations take us to virtual worlds and possibilities we would otherwise not be able to experience. They allow us to experiment, take risks, learn from failure, and experience agency in solving problems. Through game-based learning we build new schema, which we can then apply to real life.
Gaming helps young people develop global competence through participatory, interactive, and experiential learning. It motivates them to investigate issues of global significance, engages their emotional interest through role-play, helps them develop complex critical thinking and collaborative problem solving skills and often leads to participation in a knowledge network or community of practice. In addition, research shows that civic engagement in games corresponds with civic engagement in real life.
Will gamers help save the world? Perhaps the best example so far is the recent success of online Foldit players who were able to crowdsource a solution to an AIDS research puzzle in weeks that had been eluding scientists for years. And on April 3rd, the Institute for the Future will host Catalysts for Change, a 48-hour collaborative game to solve global poverty.
I hope educators around the world will take advantage of this opportunity to bring gaming for global competence into the classroom.