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Video Game Education Opens Doors

Mike Gallagher, President and CEO, Entertainment Software Association, on how games and STEM will boost America's tech sector overall

I moderated a panel of education leaders last week at the U.S. News STEM Solutions National Leadership Conference in Washington, DC. Much of the discussion focused on how to engage kids on the critical areas of science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM). In other conversations at the conference, numerous employers stressed to me that our nation is at a tipping point because of the dearth of candidates who can fill jobs that require STEM skills. In response, I was particularly proud to highlight the video game industry's commitment to addressing this key issue. However, because we call them "games," many people do not realize the vital role video games play in how our children learn in school and what young adults study in college.

Millions of children are enthusiastic gamers, and their interest in this engaging medium begins as soon as they are introduced to their first video game. They also have the benefit of learning about, and from, video games as teachers increasingly incorporate them in their classrooms. To be sure, these are not their parents' lesson plans. Math equations, literature, science concepts, and historical events all come to life through play, channeling students' passion for games into achieving measurable learning outcomes.

"Because we call them 'games,' many people do not realize the vital role video games play in how our children learn in school and what young adults study in college"

Teachers understand that games' interactivity can capture student interest and enhance their comprehension in a variety of subjects - particularly the critical topics of STEM. For example, Nevada schools that used ST Math, a game focused on abstract math concepts, more than doubled the percentage of students meeting or exceeding state math standards, compared to schools without the program. Students in Orange County, Florida, who played math game Dimension M over an 18-week period scored significantly higher, and demonstrated greater gains in their scores from pre-test to post-test, on district benchmark exams than their peers who had not played the games.

Recognizing the power of play and its economic implications, both the public and private sectors are encouraging this transformative trend. The White House's Digital Promise initiative established a national center dedicated to supporting the development of technologies, such as educational games, that can transform learning. The administration also created a position, currently filled by Mark DeLoura, for a senior policy analyst who researches and helps to shape policies around games that improve education, among other areas of daily life.

Our industry does its part by working with public officials on such policy matters and partnering with education experts and others to develop educational games. This includes ESA's co-founding of the Games, Learning and Assessment Lab (GlassLab) in collaboration with Institute of Play, Electronic Arts, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and the MacArthur Foundation. This groundbreaking video game design lab is researching game elements that increase student comprehension and performance, and creating compelling game-based educational tools. Last week at the 11th annual Games for Change Festival, GlassLab launched its second game - Mars Generation One: Argubot Academy - which it developed in conjunction with NASA. The game will test students' mastery of the elements of argumentation, including claims, evidence, and reasoning - pillars of the scientific process. Also last week, we recognized the winners of the third annual National STEM Video Game Challenge, a game design competition that challenges young developers to create games that generate interest and provide instruction in STEM topics.

Games and game technologies influence teaching and learning as students advance, with a growing number of high schools offering video game design courses. These courses build on students' previous STEM education and prepare them for promising careers in our industry. Students hone their writing skills and apply art concepts as they develop storyboards for their games, and learn to code by creating virtual worlds and game characters.

State education officials are even standardizing and approving game design curriculum for statewide use. Texas and North Carolina State Boards of Education have approved standards for a high school Game Programming and Design course and introductory and advanced Game Art and Design courses, respectively. These courses introduce students to core principles of game design, emphasizing topics such as game art, history, ethics, plot development, multi-dimensional visual theory, and animation techniques.

"Video game education offers a meaningful solution to the challenges our country faces in fostering a skilled STEM workforce... they build a foundation of knowledge that will enable them to succeed in high-tech, high-paying jobs across sectors"

Exposure to game design motivates many students to study video games in college. They can now choose from 385 colleges, universities, art, and trade schools that offer video game-related courses and programs in video game design, development, and programming; roughly 330 offer degrees ranging from certificates to master's degrees and Ph.D.'s. This is a significantly higher number of such programs than when ESA began tracking them in 2008.

Aspiring designers further sharpen their skills through a variety of specialized programs and extra-curricular offerings. At the University of Washington's Center for Game Science, students collaborate with faculty members and former industry innovators to research new ways to use games to engage students in STEM learning, enhance cognitive skills, explore social intelligence, and promote creativity. In August, the University of Texas at Austin will welcome the first class of students to its Denius-Sams Gaming Academy, an intensive, 9-month game development program with a unique focus on creative and business leadership skills that will be taught by industry leaders. ESA's E3 College Game Competition challenges student teams to develop an original game that represents their school for a chance to display their work at E3.

Video game education offers a meaningful solution to the challenges our country faces in fostering a skilled STEM workforce, and many of the questions I heard at the STEM Solutions conference. It stimulates students' interest in STEM subjects, and as they play, interact with, learn from, and create video games, they build a foundation of knowledge that will enable them to succeed in high-tech, high-paying jobs across sectors.

We encourage parents, teachers, policy makers, and business leaders to embrace the broader movement toward educational uses of video games. Our industry is eager to work with them to expand and enhance these programs as a means to prepare our country's youth to be the next technological leaders and innovators. It is a wise investment in our children and our future.

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