A teacher telling a student to get out his or her Nintendo DS and start playing an assigned game sounds like a dream to all gamers, including my son. However, Japanese students (and adults) are using their gaming systems for educational pursuits. According to Newsweek International report the Japanese are increasingly viewing the DS as a self-improvement device instead of a time-waster. Top-selling programs include educational games that improve vocabulary, cultural literacy, math skills, and foreign language instruction. Educational games and software have sold over 20 million copies in Japan.
This trend may sweep the United States in the near future. Brain Age for Nintendo DS has been a top seller, drawing adults to purchase the portable gaming devices. The publisher recently released a sequel, Brain Age II which has inspired a bundle package with a special edition Nintendo DS. Other "brain training" games have sold well in the U.S. as well. The Nintendo Wii is also drawing praise for making players physically active, which is drawing traditionally non-gamers into the market. Soon Americans should see some of the educational and self-improvement games currently popular in Japan.
What has this got to do with schools? Last year I attended a break-out session on gaming at the South Carolina EdTech Conference. The presenters in that session pointed out something educators should take note of. In most games, to get to the next level you must master assigned tasks. Players will try different tactics, research the game, and/or work with other players to achieve the goal of advancement. Now imagine a game where a player must have a knowledge of math, science, history, etc..., to play a game and we are not talking about repetitive drills either. The hero must solve a geometry problem to cross an obstacle, then use history to crack a code, a knowledge of science to figure out a way out of a trap. If the game is interesting enough, students will flock to their textbooks or the internet to help them play the game. With the mark-up in educational software, this could prove lucrative to game designers.