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Using Games in Education
David Moursund
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Cite this book as:

Moursund, D.G. (1/30/07). Introduction to Using Games in Education: A Guide for Teachers and Parents. Available free online:

Complete book: PDF format, Microsoft Word format.

Slides 2 hour talk in February 2007.

Moursund, D.G. (7/6/06). Some Personal Thoughts About Research on Using Games in Education. This is an 11 page paper, based upon the book, that I presented at NECC 2006 in San Diego. PDF File; Microsoft Word File.

Additional resources:

Additonal Resources

Bluestein, Greg (6/12/07). New games blur reality, fantasy. The Washington Post. Retrieved 6/13/07:

Cogmed working Memory Training. Quoting from the Website:

Cogmed Working Memory Training is a software-based intervention designed to improve working memory in children with attention deficits. Published, peer-reviewed and controlled clinical studies have consistently demonstrated that, upon completion of Cogmed Working Memory Training, 80% of participants have significantly improved their ability to concentrate and use complex reasoning skills over the long term. We invite you to learn more about our product and the network of Cogmed-qualified practitioners by exploring our website.

Shortz, Will. I watched a documentary video on crossword puzzels. In 1978 Mr. Shortz founded, and remains director of, the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament. He is the New York Times Crossword Puzzle editor. In his work and play, he spends about 10 hours a day creating, soving, checking, etc. crossword puzzles. Over the past 30 years, he has probably put in over 75,000 hours developing and honing his crossword puzzle expertise.

Baertein, Lisa (5/10/07). Gambott-Burke, Alexander (2007). Video game tests for autism, dyslexia. Retrieved5/13/07:
. Quoting form the article:

Autism is a complex neurobiological disorder causing mild to severe developmental disabilities and, according to the advocacy group Autism Speaks, is diagnosed in 1 in 150 individuals.

The company said their games are not a replacement for professional medical testing, which can cost a few thousand dollars. Home and classroom versions of the games cost $50 and $90.

The hard-thought race for intelligent gaming. Technology. retrieved 4/20/07:
. Quoting from the article:

Gaming has a lot in common with everyone's favourite heiress, at least in the public consciousness: it's pretty, but dumb. And now that Microsoft, Nintendo and Sony have released their latest games consoles, that statement becomes all the more pertinent - next-gen games look great, but they play like something that could have been made a decade ago. While visual fidelity has advanced exponentially over time, the technology that governs how games play, react and adapt - the artificial intelligence, or AI - remains relatively rudimentary.

Sherman, Debra (3/16/07). More video games, fewer books at schools? Reuters UK. Retrieved 3/19/07:

Winning computer program created by graduate student beats world champion Scrabble player. retrieved 3/5/07 from:

2/13/07. Wired News. Today's Homework: Make Good Games.,72707-0.html.

DeKoven, Bernie (n.d.), funshith. Retrieved 2/18/07 from Quoting from "About":

And then we, me, my wife and kids, moved to the country and built "The Games Preserve," a retreat center for the study of play, where I, and anyone else willing to brave the rural realities of my 25 acres in Northeastern Pennsylvania, could play with an actual barn full of games - board games, table games, puzzles, flying rings, a sliding board... And there I began to learn and teach, not so much games, even though there were thousands, but what I came to call the Playful Path. And I had my wife and kids and 25 acres as teachers. And guinea fowl, and sometimes millions of these bugs. January 26m 2007. A Computer Program Wins Its first Scrabble Tournament. Quoting the article:

At a Scrabble tournament in Toronto, a piece of software called Quackle triumphed in a best-of-five series over David Boys, a computer programmer who won the world Scrabble championship in 1995. The open-source program's chief designers include Jason Katz-Brown, a student at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology who also happens to be one of the top-ranked Scrabble players in the world.

Quackle's win did not come easily. Mr. Boys leapt out to a quick lead against the software, winning the first two games thanks to words like "pithead" and "redyeing." But the computer program roared back and took the final three tilts, making a couple of outstanding plays -- like "deviating," placed through two disconnected I's that were already on the board -- that even top-level human players would be hard-pressed to spot.
Quoting from the January 25, 2007 article:

Ever since the stunning victory of Deep Blue, a program running on an IBM supercomputer, over Gary Kasparov, then world chess champion, in 1997, it has been clear that computers would dominate that particular game. Today, though, they are pressing the attack on every front. They are the undisputed champions in draughts and Othello. They are generally stronger in backgammon. They are steadily gaining ground in Scrabble, poker and bridge. And they are even doing pretty well at crossword puzzles. There is one game, however, where humans still reign supreme: Go. Yet here too their grip is beginning to loosen. ISTE Special Interest Group for the use of games, simulations, and 3D environments in teaching, learning, and other educational areas hosted at the University of North Texas.

Moursund, D.G. (2006). Computers in education for talented and gifted students: A book for elementary and middle school teacher. Chapter 6, Computer Games. Access at

Moursund, D.G. (n.d.). Computer games. Oregon Technology in Education Council. Accessed 4/1/06:

The book does not include a discuss of play by postal mail or play by email games. A starting point for this topic is See also If yoou have a PC (as distinguished from a Mac not running wiodows), you can participate for free in a Medieval Warlords play by email game. See



According to David Gardner, chief operating officer for Electronic Arts (EA), the video gaming industry continues to fail women by not producing suitable content. Gardner was speaking to a conference in Edinburgh at the time. His company's research discovered that 40 percent of teen girls play video games versus 90 percent of teen boys, and most girls lost interest within a year. He pointed to EA's Sims game, which accommodates relationships and chat, as a successful example of the kind of games girls and women enjoy playing. BBC, 21 August 2006

BBC News (18 March, 2002). Video games 'stimulate learning.' Accessed 3/29/06

This news item reports on research that looked at the educational value of the following games: Age of Empires II, Bob the Builder, Championship Manager, City Traders, F1 Championship Racing, Freddi Fish, Lego Alpha Team, Legoland, Micro Racers, Pajama Sam, Putt-Putt Enters the Race, RollerCoaster Tycoon, Sim City 3000, The Sims, The Tweenies, The Settlers, Uno, Worms United. Quoting from the news item:

The UK study concluded that simulation and adventure games - such as Sim City and RollerCoaster Tycoon, where players create societies or build theme parks, developed children's strategic thinking and planning skills.

Parents and teachers also thought their children's mathematics, reading and spelling improved.

Donovan, Patricia (July 6, 2006). Virtual reality psychodrama plays with viewers’ minds. University of Buffalo Reporter. Retrieved 7/10/06:
. Quoting from the article:

"What is unique about this experience," Anstey says, "is that the participant (called "Seeker") interacts not only with a virtual reality (VR) environment, but with two human actors who appear in the virtual world as avatars wearing masks and cloth-like wings. These two characters, called Patofil and Filopat, will improvise responses to the spontaneous actions of the participant. Other characters in the drama are played by computer-controlled intelligent agents.

"The game involves a series of challenges," Anstey says, "and for the player, it appears to be about control and the choices one makes with power. But the games are rigged, the characters are duplicitous, the quest is a decoy and the underlying test is how to cope with disempowerment."

Griffin, Kevin (7/07/06). New technology could measure the pleasure of playing games. Vancouver Sun. Retrieved 7/10/06:
. Quoting from the article:

A computer scientist believes it's only a matter of time before she can develop a system to measure the amount of fun and excitement each video game generates.

Regan Mandryk is the first person in the world to measure heart rate and facial muscle movements to quantify the emotional states of gamers while they play.

In research funded by game-maker Electronic Arts for Mandryk's doctorate at Simon Fraser University, the 30-year-old computer scientist created experiments to measure physical indications of excitement, fun, challenge, frustration and boredom.

Consumers in the U.S. spent $7 billion on video and computer games last year, compared to $2.6 billion in 1996, according to the Entertainment Software Association.

Jones, Greg and Kelvin Kalinowski (2006). A Proposal for Accelerating the Implementation and Development of Video Games in Education. Innovate Journal of Online Education. Retrieved 8/1/06:

During the International Society for Technology in Education's (ISTE) 2005 National Educational Computing Conference (NECC), a group of educators began the process of forming a new ISTE Special Interest Group (SIG) on games and simulations. At the group's first meeting, over 100 participants shared their thoughts on games and simulations in education. The group then met online over the next several months and created a mission that encompassed the development and educational use of digital games and simulations with an emphasis on credible research supporting their value in the classroom. As part of their initial planning, the SIG founders discussed problems facing key stakeholders—parents, school administrators, and legislators—on implementing video games in the classroom. Consequently, some members of the proposed SIG recommended the creation of an open, online community of educators and game developers who would collaboratively explore the instructional benefits of video games. This article explores the current issues surrounding the limited use of video games in the classroom and outlines the anticipated online solution.

Lynn, Andrea (8/16/06). Some online video games found to promote 'sociability,' researchers say. News Bureau, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Retrieved 9/12/06: Quoting from the article:

After examining the form and function of what’s known in the trade as MMOs – massively multiplayer online video games – an interdisciplinary team of researchers concludes that some games “promote sociability and new worldviews.”

The researchers, Constance Steinkuehler and Dmitri Williams, claim that MMOs function not like solitary dungeon cells, but more like virtual coffee shops or pubs where something called “social bridging” takes place. They even liken playing such games as “Asheron’s Call” and “Lineage” to dropping in at “Cheers,” the fictional TV bar “where everybody knows your name.”

McFarlane, Sparrowhawk, and Heald (2002). Report on the educational uses of games. Accessed 3/29/06:

This is a 48 page report on research done by TEEM. Quoting the TEEM Website: "Formed as a partnership between Sparrowhawk and Heald and the Centre for Research in Education at Homerton College, TEEM has the benefit of 20 years' involvement in software for schools and some of the country's leading thinking on the application of ICT in schools."

The cited research examined possible educational values of a wide range of computer-based games. The investigation into the habits of 700 children aged seven to 16 also found that, far from being a solitary activity, children preferred to play games in pairs or small groups. Some findings, quoted from the Executive Summary:

  • Primary teachers perceive that many educational titles contain a game element, and this perception is shared by children using such software.
  • Games provide a forum in which learning arises as a result of tasks stimulated by the content of the games, knowledge is developed through the content of the game, and skills are developed as a result of playing the game
  •  It seems that the final obstacle to games use in schools is a mismatch between games content and curriculum content, and the lack of opportunity to gain recognition for skill development. This problem is present in primary schools, but significantly more acute in secondary.
  •  Many of the skills valuable for successful game play, and recognized by both teachers and parents, are only implicitly valued within a school context. Teachers and parents both valued the conversation, discussion, and varied thinking skills demanded by some of the games employed. However, these alone could not justify the use of the games within a crowded school curriculum.

OHSU (July 17, 2006). Computer Card Game Detects Cognitive Changes. retrieved 7/22/06:
. Quoting from the article:

PORTLAND, Ore. – A popular, computer-based card game is helping Oregon Health & Science University researchers monitor cognitive changes in the elderly, a new study shows.

Scientists with the OHSU Oregon Center for Aging & Technology, or ORCATECH, found that a Solitaire-like game called FreeCell, when adapted with cognitive performance assessment algorithms, may be able to distinguish between persons with memory problems and cognitively healthy seniors.

People with mild cognitive impairment are at high risk of developing dementia, which is most commonly caused by Alzheimer's disease. The discovery could help doctors plan early treatment strategies by detecting subtle cognitive changes over time in the natural setting of an elder's home.

"We discovered that we can take an existing computer game that people already have found enjoyable and extract cognitive assessment measures from it," said ORCATECH investigator Holly Jimison, Ph.D., associate professor of medical informatics and clinical epidemiology, OHSU School of Medicine, and the study's lead author.

Queen's News Centre (8/10/06). Eye tracking technology poised to be next trend to immerse gamers . Retrieved 9/12/06: Quoting from the article:

KINGSTON, Ont. – The growing yen of video game enthusiasts to leave the real world in favour of a virtual one is driving a market trend toward developing easier-to-use controls – like those that allow gamers to play through eye movement.

A Queen’s University study confirms that video-gamers feel more immersed and have more fun in virtual environments when they play with commercial eye tracking technology.

Ross, Ohilllip E. (July 24, 2006). The expert mind. Scientific Retrieved 9/14/06:
. Quoting from the article:

He thus put in a nutshell what a century of psychological research has subsequently established: much of the chess master's advantage over the novice derives from the first few seconds of thought. This rapid, knowledge-guided perception, sometimes called apperception, can be seen in experts in other fields as well. Just as a master can recall all the moves in a game he has played, so can an accomplished musician often reconstruct the score to a sonata heard just once. And just as the chess master often finds the best move in a flash, an expert physician can sometimes make an accurate diagnosis within moments of laying eyes on a patient.

But how do the experts in these various subjects acquire their extraordinary skills? How much can be credited to innate talent and how much to intensive training? Psychologists have sought answers in studies of chess masters. The collected results of a century of such research have led to new theories explaining how the mind organizes and retrieves information. What is more, this research may have important implications for educators. Perhaps the same techniques used by chess players to hone their skills could be applied in the classroom to teach reading, writing and arithmetic.

The one thing that all expertise theorists agree on is that it takes enormous effort to build these structures in the mind. Simon coined a psychological law of his own, the 10-year rule, which states that it takes approximately a decade of heavy labor to master any field. Even child prodigies, such as Gauss in mathematics, Mozart in music and Bobby Fischer in chess, must have made an equivalent effort, perhaps by starting earlier and working harder than others.

Spice, B. and Watzman, Anne (7/6/06). Carnegie Mellon computer poker program sets its own Texas Hold'em strategy. Retrieved 7/9/06: Quoting from the Website:

PITTSBURGH—A Carnegie Mellon University computer scientist has demonstrated that you don't necessarily need to know much about poker to create a computer program that can play a winning hand of Texas Hold'Em. A knowledge of game theory, not the specialized expertise of a human poker player, is at the heart of the poker robot called GS1 developed by Tuomas Sandholm, director of Carnegie Mellon's Agent-Mediated Electronic Marketplaces Lab, and graduate student Andrew Gilpin.

Though not yet the equal of the best human players, GS1 outperformed the two leading "pokerbots" in playing heads-up, limit Texas Hold'Em in tests at Carnegie Mellon earlier this year. Both of GS1's opponents were commercially available programs that, like other pokerbots, incorporate the expertise of human poker players. GS1, by contrast, develops its strategy after performing an automated analysis of poker rules.


See also the American Association for Artifician Intelligence poker competition at

Stein, David (1998). Situated learning in adult education. ERIC Digest # 195. Accessed 3/2/06:

From an educational point of view, many (most?, all?) games can be thought of from a modeling/simulation point of view. A game creates a situation in which learning occurs. Under appropriate conditions, transfer of learning occurs from this situated leanring environment to other game and non-game environments. Quoting from the article:

As an instructional strategy, situated cognition has been seen as a means for relating subject matter to the needs and concerns of learners (Shor 1987). Learning is essentially a matter of creating meaning from the real activities of daily living. By embedding subject matter in the ongoing experiences of the learners and by creating opportunities for learners to live subject matter in the context of real-world challenges, knowledge is acquired and learning transfers from the classroom to the realm of practice. To situate learning means to place thought and action in a specific place and time. To situate means to involve other learners, the environment, and the activities to create meaning. To situate means to locate in a particular setting the thinking and doing processes used by experts to accomplish knowledge and skill tasks (Lave and Wenger 1991). In the adult classroom, to situate learning means to create the conditions in which participants will experience the complexity and ambiguity of learning in the real world. Participants will create their own knowledge out of the raw materials of experience, i.e., the relationships with other participants, the activities, the environmental cues, and the social organization that the community develops and maintains.

A situated learning experience has four major premises guiding the development of classroom activities (Anderson, Reder, and Simon 1996; Wilson 1993): (1) learning is grounded in the actions of everyday situations; (2) knowledge is acquired situationally and transfers only to similar situations; (3) learning is the result of a social process encompassing ways of thinking, perceiving, problem solving, and interacting in addition to declarative and procedural knowledge; and (4) learning is not separated from the world of action but exists in robust, complex, social environments made up of actors, actions, and situations. In the situated learning  approach, knowledge and skills are learned in the  contexts that reflect how knowledge is obtained and  applied in everyday situations. Situated cognition theory conceives of learning as a sociocultural phenomenon  rather than the action of an individual acquiring general  information from a decontextualized body of  knowledge.


A newborn child’s brain is designed to learn, is naturally curious, and is intrinsically (internally) motivated to learn. If the child is provided with an environment that is reasonably conducive to and supportive of learning, learning will occur at a rapid pace. This learning will include the marvelous accomplishment of learning to speak and to understand speech, and learning the culture of his or her environment. A child raised in a bilingual, bicultural environment will become fluent in two languages and will become bicultural. This speaks to a child’s learning potential, and to the fact that our informal and formal educational system is not doing well in helping children achieve their learning potentials.

You are familiar with many different forms of extrinsic motivation, perhaps based on a system of rewards and/or punishments. Likely you are familiar with B.F. Skinner’s theory of behaviorism. Through appropriate use of behaviorist principles, rats, cats, dogs, people, and other animals can be trained to elicit certain predefined behaviors. These stimulus/response types of training have proven to be quite effective. Note, however, in terms of education of humans, behavioral learning theory has largely given way to a variety of cognitive learning theories.

There is no fine dividing line between intrinsic and extrinsic motivation. Moreover, in a particular situation the intrinsic and extrinsic motivation factors may be working at cross purposes. A person may try a new computer game at the urging of others—just to please them. Learning a new game may be difficult, and typically a beginner does not play very well. Thus, learning a new game often involves failure. The novice is thus presented with extrinsic motivation urgings of a parent or peer, and intrinsic motivations to avoid trying the game, because of fear of doing poorly.

Generally speaking, as a person’s knowledge and skill in playing a game increase, intrinsic motivation grows. Stated in terms of brain science, playing the game reasonably well causes the player’s brain to produce dopamine, an endorphin that stimulates a pleasure center in the brain. Many years ago when I was a doctoral student, a very intelligent friend of mine flunked out of the doctoral program in physics because two-deck solitaire games were far more motivating to him than the physics courses he was taking.

Free Play Sites and Downloads

Ace Card Games. Accessed 3/29/06: A no hassle, no ad site for free play of 12 different solitaire card games on the Web. Includes Klondike, FreeCell, Baker's Dozen, Yukon, Carpet, Pas Seul, Golf, Eight Off, Fortress, Spider One Suit, Spider Two Suits, and Spider Four Suits.

Arni, Chandru (n.d.). Arni's mind games. Retrieved 11/02/06: Quoting from the Website:

These games have the profile of puzzles and some games are played against the computer. They are real MINDGAMES and are meant for both children and adults. There is something about a puzzle which appeals to almost everyone, young and old. It trains young minds at the same time it is Fun. For men it can sharpen their wits and increase their logical thinking processes. It is true Edutainment. These games will not satisfy those who want to shoot, bomb and see blood, nor will it satisfy people who want games of dexterity and chance. The selection of the games rank from those devised from ancient times or found in some books of Mathematical recreations, and some are original.

Classic '80s Arcade Games TripletsAndUs, Miniclip, and UltimateArcade, which recreate '80s classics in Java and Flash, and offer copious arcade interpretations of their own as well.

GameHouse Online Games. Accessed 3/31/06: Offers a number of games that can be played online, without registering. Must watch ads while downloading (for free play of a game) is occurring. Among other categories, offers a number of Word Games that have educational value. Sudoku is available in a mode where one can set difficulty level. My wife and I have purchased a number of games form this site. Some are only available in a Windowws version, while others are also available in a Macintosh version. The quality of the various games we have purchased seem to be quite good.

Chen Jenova (n.d.). flOw—a free game. Retrieved 12/30/06: Quoting from the Website:

An addictive Flash game created by a student while researching design methodologies for elastic video game experiences. Your goal is to dive deep into the space, eat and evolve.

Pipkin, Andrew (6/23/05). Idiot's Delight. Accessed 3/29/06: Quoting from the Website:

Welcome to Idiot's Delight, your source for free online solitaire. This site features applets for one hundred solitaire variations that can be played on all platforms (including Macintosh and Linux) that have a browser supporting Java applets. The games allow unlimited undo and redo and have several levels of difficulty to provide a challenging (but winnable) game for all levels of players. [Note from Moursund: The Homepage does not list all of the available games. Go to one of the games listed on the HomePage and you will see that the sidebar menu contains a longer list.]

Kingdom of Loathing. This site includes a free version of a massively online multiplayer game. Quoting from the Website:

The Kingdom of Loathing was once a pleasant place, where all the citizens loathed one another equally and nobody caused too much trouble. Under the gentle rule of King Ralph XI, peace had prevailed for as long as anybody could remember.
One fateful Porktober morning, a Sorceress came to the Kingdom. A Naughty Sorceress. A Naughty Sorceress who was clearly up to no good, and even more clearly up to plenty of bad. King Ralph sought to expel the Naughty Sorceress from his Kingdom, but she imprismed him in a black crystalline shard of curdled magic. It was very dramatic.

Monsters emerged from their hidey-holes to terrorize the citizens of Loathing, and larger monsters emerged from larger hidey-holes to terrorize those monsters, all under the control of the Naughty Sorceress.

In the King's absence, the Council of Loathing convened to attempt to impose order on the Kingdom. Their success was limited, however, to imposing their will on adventurers who came to the Kingdom seeking fame, fortune, or quality products at reasonable prices. And as you've probably guessed by now, one of those adventurers is you!

StudyBuddy (n.d.). Games. Retrieved 8/11/06:

The AOL StudyBuddy site is free for both AOL members and non-members. It includes a Learning Games section with a number of games that have educaiotnal value.

Lego Factory (n.d.). Create a model using the free Lego digital designer software. Accessed 3/29/05:

This free software (for the PB and the Mac) allows you to build three dimensional objects using virtual Lego blocks. Quoting from the Website:

Welcome to LEGO Digital Designer, also known as LDD. With the free Digital Designer software you can build absolutely anything with virtual LEGO bricks right on your computer.

Highly Recommended Articles

Brown, John Seely; Collins, Allan; and Duguid, Paul (1989). Situated cognition and the culture of learning. Educational Researcher. Accessed: 4/1/06:

John Seely Brown is a seminal thinker in Big Ideas of education and ways to improve education. He is on my "must read" list of authors for preservice and inservice teachers. Quoting the Abstract to the Brown, Collins, and Duguid article:

Many teaching practices implicitly assume that conceptual knowledge can be abstracted from the situations in which it is learned and used. This article argues that this assumption inevitably limits the effectiveness of such practices. Drawing on recent research into cognition as it is manifest in everyday activity, the authors argue that knowledge is situated, being in part a product of the activity, context, and culture in which it is developed and used. They discuss how this view of knowledge affects our understanding of learning, and they note that conventional schooling too often ignores the influence of school culture on what is learned in school. As an alternative to conventional practices, they propose "cognitive apprenticeship" (Collins, Brown, & Newman, in press), which honors the situated nature of knowledge. They examine two examples of mathematics instruction that exhibit certain key features of this approach to teaching

Business Week Online (May 1, 2006). My virtual life. A journey into a place in cyberspace where thousands of people have imaginary lives. Some even make a good living. Big advertisers are taking notice. Retrieved 6/29/06:
. Quoting from the article:

You might wonder, as I did at first, what's the point? Well, for one, it's no less real a form of entertainment or personal fulfillment than, say, playing a video game, collecting matchbook covers, or building a life list of birds you've seen. The growing appeal also reflects a new model for media entertainment that the Web first kicked off: Don't just watch -- do something. "They all feel like they're creating a new world, which they are," says Linden Lab Chief Executive Philip Rosedale.

Besides, in one important way, this virtual stuff isn't imaginary at all. In November, 2003, Linden Lab made a policy change unprecedented in online games: It allowed Second Life residents to retain full ownership of their virtual creations. The inception of property rights in the virtual world made for a thriving market economy. Programmer Nathan Keir in Australia, for example, created a game played by avatars inside Second Life that's so popular he licensed it to a publisher, who'll soon release it on video game players and cell phones. All that has caught real-world investors' attention, too. On Mar. 28, Linden Lab raised a second, $11 million round of private financing, including new investor Jeff Bezos, CEO of Inc.

Collins, Allan, John Seely Brown, and Ann Holum (1991). Cognitive apprenticeship: Making thinking visible. American Educator. Accessed 3/29/06:

My feeling is that this article should be required reading for every preservice and inservice teacher. The article is also particularly relevant to people interested in games in education, since games tend to create environments that actively engage students and where they can see what they are accomplishing. Quoting the first two paragraphs of the article:

In ancient times, teaching and learning were accomplished through apprenticeship: We taught our children how to speak, grow crops, craft cabinets, or tailor clothes by showing them how and by helping them do it. Apprenticeship was the vehicle for transmitting the knowledge required for expert practice in fields from painting and sculpting to medicine and law. It was the natural way to learn. In modern times, apprenticeship has largely been replaced by formal schooling, except in children's learning of language, in some aspects of graduate education, and in on-the-job training. We propose in alternative model of instruction that is accessible within the framework of the typical American classroom. It is a model of instruction that goes back to apprenticeship but incorporates elements of schooling. We call this model "cognitive apprenticeship" (Collins, Brown, and Newman, 1989).

While there are many differences between schooling and apprenticeship methods, we will focus on one. In apprenticeship, learners can see the processes of work: They watch a parent sow, plant and harvest crops and help as they are able; they assist a tradesman as he crafts a cabinet; they piece together garments under the supervision of a more experienced tailor. Apprenticeship involves learning a physical, tangible activity. But in schooling, the "practice" of problem solving, reading comprehension, and writing is not at all obvious -- it is not necessarily observable to the student. In apprenticeship, the processes of thinking are visible. In schooling, the processes of thinking are often invisible to both the students and the teacher. Cognitive apprenticeship is a model of instruction that works to make thinking visible.

Costikyan. Greg (1994). I have no words and I must design. Interactive Fantasy #2. Accessed 3/28/06: Costikyan’s Website is at and his Blog is at

Greg Costikyan has been a major figure in computer gaming for many years. The referenced article is a classic, well worth reading for people who are serious about computer-based games. Quoting from the Homepage of Greg's Website:

You can find the long and boring bio here, but briefly: I've designed more than 30 commercially published board, roleplaying, computer, online, and mobile games, including 5 Origins Award winners. I've written scads of articles [some are in the list at] on games and the industry, as well as four novels and a bunch of short stories. In 2000, I co-founded Unplugged Games, one of the first North American mobile game start ups, which went out of business a few months after 9/11. After consulting for a time, I joined Nokia as a full-time games researcher, but left them in late 2005 to found (with Johnny Wilson) Manifesto Games, which works to build a vibrant, innovative, and viable independent games industry. I also coordinate the New York city chapter of the International Game Developers Association.

Jones, Valdez, Nowakowski, and Rasmussen (1995). New times demand new ways of learning. North Central Regional Educational Laboratory. Accessed 3/29/06:

This is part of a report of work that was funded by the U.S. Department of Education. Now, more than 10 years later, the ideas tha are discussed still seem very modern and up to date. Quoting from the report:

Recent research builds a powerful case against what used to be accepted "truths" about learning and technology. First, there is strong evidence that traditional models of learning, traditional definitions of technology effectiveness, and traditional models of the cost effectiveness of technology don't work. In place of these old assumptions, researchers are positing new ways of looking at learning that promote:

  • engaged, meaningful learning and collaboration involving challenging and real-life tasks; and
  • technology as a tool for learning, communication, and collaboration.

This section details the indicators that educators and policymakers can use to measure the effectiveness of technology in learning.

The traditional learning model is not relevant to real student needs

Today's workplaces and communities - and tomorrow's - have tougher requirements than ever before. They need citizens who can think critically and strategically to solve problems. These individuals must learn in a rapidly changing environment, and build knowledge taken from numerous sources and different perspectives. They must understand systems in diverse contexts, and collaborate locally and around the globe.

These attributes contrast sharply with the discrete, low-level skills, content, and assessment methods that traditional ways of learning favor. The new workplace requirements for learning are incompatible with instruction that assumes the teacher is the information giver and the student a passive recipient. The new requirements are at odds with testing programs that assess skills that are useful only in school.

The traditional mechanisms for evaluating the effectiveness of technology programs don't work

Traditionally, we have determined the effectiveness of a technology program vis-a-vis a "regular" program by comparing student outcomes on standardized tests. Numerous researchers, however, question the utility of this method. When the North Central Regional Education Laboratory (NCREL) surveyed experts about traditional models of technology effectiveness, respondents said:

  • "Effectiveness is not a function of the technology, but rather of the learning environment and the capability to do things one could not do otherwise."
  • "Technology in support of outmoded educational systems is counterproductive."
  • "[The reliance on] standardized tests is ludicrous... Technology works in a school not because test scores increase, but because technology empowers new solutions."

Kim, John H. (n.d.). Role-Playing Game Page. Accessed 3/29/06:

Quoting from the John Kim's Homepage:

In recreational life, I am an avid player of role-playing games. I have a massive website on RPGs which has been steadily accreting material since I started my website in 1994. It is famous for having definitive encyclopedia of print RPG as well as free RPGs on the web. It also has a bunch of RPG theory by myself.

By profession, I am a former physicist now working as a programmer. I am also an avid gamer and a happy father. Right now I am working as a programmer at Earthlink, Inc. in San Jose, California. In my prior life, I was a physicist (specifically a high-energy experimental physicist). I got my PhD in Physics from Columbia University in 1998, working on a neutrino experiment at Fermilab, namely the CCFR/NuTeV collaboration. From 1998 to 2000, I was a post-doc at UC Irvine, working on an experiment called AMANDA, which is a detector set up under the ice of the South Pole looking for sources of high-energy cosmic rays (mostly) from space.

Quoting from

This is a record of major updates throughout my RPG site, which I will try to do approximately monthly. The Free RPGs [over 500 are listed] list has it's own section of new/updated entries over the past month. If you are interested in newly released print RPGs, my RPG Encyclopedia has a timeline feature so you can look at the RPGs released this year.

Papert, Seymour (June 1998). Does easy do it? Children, games and learning. Game Developer magazine. Accessed 3/30/06:

In the field of education, Seymour Papert is best known for his work in developing the Logo programming language and promoting its widespread use in education. Learn more about this educator, mathematician, and computer scientist at Read an excellent interview with Papert at

Quoting from Papert's June 1998 article:

The kind of product I shall pick on here has the form of a game: the player gets into situations that require an appropriate action in order to get on to the next situation along the road to the final goal. So far, this sounds like 'tainment. The edu' part comes from the fact that the actions are schoolish exercises such as those little addition or multiplication sums that schools are so fond of boring kids with. It is clear enough why people do this. Many who want to control children (for example, the less imaginative members of the teaching profession or parents obsessed with kids' grades) become green with envy when they see the energy children pour into computer games. So they say to themselves, "The kids like to play games, we want them to learn multiplication tables, so everyone will be happy if we make games that teach multiplication." The result is shown in a rash of ads that go like this: "Our Software Is So Much Fun That The Kids Don't Even Know That They Are Learning" or "Our Games Make Math Easy."

The language of these ads betrays the way in which this software throws away what is best about the contribution of game designers to the learning environment and replaces it with what is worst about the contribution of school curriculum designers. What is best about the best games is that they draw kids into some very hard learning. Did you ever hear a game advertised as being easy? What is worst about school curriculum is the fragmentation of knowledge into little pieces. This is supposed to make learning easy, but often ends up depriving knowledge of personal meaning and making it boring. Ask a few kids: the reason most don't like school is not that the work is too hard, but that it is utterly boring.

The crux of what I want to say is that game designers have a better take on the nature of learning than curriculum designers. They have to. Their livelihoods depend on millions of people being prepared to undertake the serious amount of learning needed to master a complex game. If their public failed to learn, they would go out of business. In the case of curriculum designers, the situation is reversed: their business is boosted whenever students fail to learn and schools clamor for a new curriculum! I believe that this explains why I have learned very little about learning from reading textbooks on curriculum design and have learned a great deal from both the users (mostly kids) and the designers (often "grown-up kids") of computer games, of construction kits (especially Lego) and of classical Disney theme parks and animations.

Phillips, Brian David (1994). Role-playing games in the English as a foreign language classroo, Accessed 3/29/06:

This article provides a nice overview of role-playing games. Quoting from the article:

First, RPGs should be distinguished from Language Role Plays, Classroom Dramas, and other more commonly employed classroom language learning exercises which teachers attending the conference may be more familiar with. RPGs are games played on a tabletop with pencil, paper, dice (often polyhedral), and a large dose of imagination (unlike the more usual language role plays which are acted out before a class, these games are non-performance oriented). Players can be divided into two types: the referee (commonly called a Game Master or GM) and the players. The GM creates a scenario which he then sets in motion by explaining the situation to the players who have created Player Characters (PCs) to interact with one another and the GM's characters (Non-Player Characters or NPCs) during the game. Following a set of rules or guidelines, players determine the success of their actions by rolling dice and consulting tables. Sometimes players will use miniature figures placed upon the tabletop to represent themselves in the game.

Basically, RPGs are Interactive Stories in which the GM furnishes the basic plot elements (often based in fantastic or heroic genres) and the players shape the narrative through their actions within the context of the game. The game is played through the verbal interchange of the players, making it ideal for language learners.

Because they are cooperative games, RPGs don't have winners or losers in the traditional sense of the terms. In most games -- board games, card games, and dice games -- there is a clearly defined way to win, and a clearly defined way to lose, and winning is the goal of the game. In RPGs, the concepts of winning and losing do not exist. The goal as a player is to "help to create a story and to have fun. You may give your character other goals, but the success of your character does not determine any sense of winning or losing. Like life, it's not so much whether you win or lose, but how you play the game" (Stratton, What Is Role-Playing). Players (as PCs) don't compete against one another; they cooperate in fighting the monsters or overcoming other obstacles created by the GM. They also play against chance (the dice) and a standard of excellence (as Terri Toles-Patkin noted that "it is considered bad form to hang back during the fighting and push your way to the front when the treasure is distributed.

Miscellaneous Other Resources

Basken, Paul (10/17/06). Video Games Should Be Used More in Schools, New Study Says. Retrieved 10/18/06:
. Quoting from the article:

Oct. 17 (Bloomberg) -- Video games have enough promise as educational tools that the U.S. government should be spending millions of dollars more on developing applications for schools, a federal science agency official said.

Early studies show that playing video games can help children learn to make quick decisions and study a subject intensively, according to a report released today by the Entertainment Software Association, the National Science Foundation and the Federation of American Scientists. Game- playing might also allow students to learn at their own pace.

Maximizing the educational potential of gaming technology involves replicating the compelling graphics and environments of the top-quality video games, said John Cherniavsky, a senior adviser for research at the education directorate of the National Science Foundation.

BBC News (10/2/06). Video games have a 'role in school.' Retrieved 10/3/06: Quoting from the article:

The Teaching with Games report was commissioned by games giant Electronic Arts (EA) and carried out by FutureLab.

It surveyed almost 1,000 teachers and more than 2,300 primary and secondary school students in the UK.

The survey found 59% of teachers would consider using off-the-shelf games in the classroom while 62% of students wanted to use games at school.

Federation of American Scientists (2006). Summit on educational games. Retrieved 10/20/06:
. Quoting from the 53 page report:

To explore how the United States can harness the powerful features of digital games for learning, the Federation of American Scientists, the Entertainment Software Association, and the National Science Foundation convened a National Summit on Educational Games, on October 25, 2005 in Washington, DC. The Summit brought together nearly 100 experts to discuss ways to accelerate the development, commercialization, and deployment of new generation games for learning.

The Summit focused on answering four questions:

  • What aspects of learning are most amenable to new approaches offered by games?
  • What kinds of research are needed to identify features of gaming that can be effective in education and training?
  • What makes the education market so difficult for innovative commercial developers?
  • What kinds of changes in instructional practices and management of educational institutions are needed to take advantage of the power games could bring to teaching and learning?

Game Theory Basics (n.d.). Accessed 3/29/06:

Game Theory is a branch of mathematics and a branch of economics. This Website lists some of the games that have been analyzed and discusses and provides a page-length analysis of a half dozen of them. Games discussed include the Prisoner's Dilemma, Oligopoly prices and "Solutions" to Pricing Games, and Cooperative Games. Quoting from the Website:

Game theory was intended to confront just this problem: to provide a theory of economic and strategic behavior when people interact directly, rather than "through the market." In game theory, "games" have always been a metaphor for more serious interactions in human society. Game theory may be about poker and baseball, but it is not about chess, and it is about such serious interactions as market competition, arms races and environmental pollution. But game theory addresses the serious interactions using the metaphor of a game: in these serious interactions, as in games, the individual's choice is essentially a choice of a strategy, and the outcome of the interaction depends on the strategies chosen by each of the participants. On this interpretation, a study of games may indeed tell us something about serious interactions. But how much?

In neoclassical economic theory, to choose rationally is to maximize one's rewards. From one point of view, this is a problem in mathematics: choose the activity that maximizes rewards in given circumstances. Thus we may think of rational economic choices as the "solution" to a problem of mathematics. In game theory, the case is more complex, since the outcome depends not only on my own strategies and the "market conditions," but also directly on the strategies chosen by others, but we may still think of the rational choice of strategies as a mathematical problem -- maximize the rewards of a group of interacting decision makers -- and so we again speak of the rational outcome as the "solution" to the game.

King, Matt (7/11/06). Game on: UCSC will offer video game design major this fall. Retrieved 7/12/06:
. Quoting from the Website:

SANTA CRUZ — UC Santa Cruz will offer a major in computer game design this fall, making it the first school in the UC system to offer such a program, the campus announced Monday.

The major, which will culminate with a bachelor's degree in computer science, will lead students through the technical, artistic and narrative elements of interactive games.

The video game industry has tripled its sales in the last decade to become a $7 billion industry. A spokeswoman for EA Sports, the Redwood Shores company best known for its John Madden line of football games, said the company is growing so fast its having a hard time recruiting a talented workforce.

"We are growing at rate faster than we can fill all of our positions," Tammy Schacter said. "The game industry is the marriage of art and science. ... Engineers are the backbone of the games."

May, Lola (n.d.). Problem-solving games. retrieved 10/10/06:
. Quoting from the Website:

Presenting Krypto and Baby Krypto - two games that are guaranteed to motivate your students.

A numbers game that involves the whole class can provide a wonderful opportunity to meet the challenge of problem-solving.

I'm referring specifically to the game of Krypto, a math motivator if ever there was one. What's more, since it's possible to have more than one solution, the activity (and the motivation) can continue for quite some time.

There's nothing particularly difficult about the basic rules of the game. Five numbers between 1 and 20 are chosen at random by five students. A target number between 30 and 50 is then chosen by a sixth student.

Students try to create an equation that equals the target number. They may use each of the chosen numbers only once; however, they may use any combination of the operations - addition, subtraction, multiplication and division - and they may use the operations as many times as they want.

Online Gambling (10/2/06). Snake eyes for online gambling. Red Herring. Retrieved 10/3/06:
. Quoting from the article:

The beleaguered online gambling industry is betting that President George W. Bush will sign legislation passed by the Congress outlawing Internet gambling in the United States, a development that could wipe out half of the $12-billion industry.

One of the industry’s best-known firms, PartyGaming, on Monday said it will suspend its U.S. business indefinitely if the president signs the Safe Port Act, a bill passed on Saturday that includes provisions that make the receipt of funds in connection with online wagering illegal in the U.S.

Science Vocabulary Hangman (n.d.). Retrieved 10/12/06:

Make use of the science and other vocabulary provided by the Website, or add your own words. While still called "Hangman," it makes use of pieces of a figure disappearing with each wrong answer.

Walker, Paul (October 2005). An outline of the history of game theory. Accessed 3/28/06:

this Wewbsite contains brief discussions of various historical aspects that have contributed to the development of Game theory. For example, here is what is listed under 1871:

In the first edition of his book The Descent of Man, and Selection in Relation to Sex Charles Darwin gives the first (implicitly) game theoretic argument in evolutionary biology. Darwin argued that natural section will act to equalize the sex ratio. If, for example, births of females are less common than males, then a newborn female will have better mating prospects than a newborn male and therefore can expect to have more offspring. Thus parents genetically disposed to produce females tend to have more than the average numbers of grandchildren and thus the genes for female-producing tendencies spread, and female births become commoner. As the 1:1 sex ratio is approached, the advantage associated with producing females dies away. The same reasoning holds if males are substituted for females throughout. Therefore 1:1 is the equilibrium ratio.

Quotations Related to Games and Education

Some Quotation Sources

Author Unknown, or Anonymous

Lottery: A tax on people who are bad at math.

The more you sweat in practice, the less you bleed in battle. 

We do not stop playing because we grow old. We grow old because we stop playing.


Well begun is half done.

Saint Augustine (AD 354 - 430) in his Confessions—Book I:10.

 ... but we enjoyed playing games and were punished for them by men who played games themselves. However, grown-up games are known as 'business' and even though boys' games are much the same, they are punished for them by their elders. No one pities either the boys or the men, though surely we deserve pity, for I cannot believe that a good judge would approve of the beatings I received as a boy on the ground that my games delayed my progress in studying subjects which would enable me to play a less creditable game later in life.

Babbage, Charles The Life of a Philosopher.

… every game of skill is susceptible of being played by an automaton.

Barber, Jerry (Talking about golf).

The more I practice, the luckier I get.

Bose, Amar Gopal

No one ever won a chess game by betting on each move. Sometimes you have to move backward to get a step forward.

Burton, Richard, and John Seely Brown An Investigation of Computer Coaching for Informal Learning Activities. Printed in Intelligent Tutoring Systems, Edited by D. Sleeman and J. S. Brown, 1982. London/New York: Academic Press.

For an informal environment to be fully effective as a learning activity, it often must be augmented by tutorial guidance that recognizes and explains weaknesses in the student's decisions or suggests ideas when the student appears to have none. This is a significant challenge requiring many of the skills analogous to those of a coach or laboratory instructor. The tutor or coach must be perceptive enough to make relevant comments but not so intrusive as to destroy the fun inherent in the game.

Chinese Proverb

If you must play, decide upon three things at the start: the rules of the game, the stakes, and the quitting time.

D'Angelo, Anthony J

If life doesn't offer a game worth playing, then invent a new one.

de Bono, Edward

The vertical thinker says: 'I know what I am looking for.' The lateral thinker says: 'I am looking but I won't know what I am looking for until I have found it.

Einstein, Albert

We can't solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.

Epstein, Susan L. The Intelligent Novice: Learning to Play Better, in the book Heuristic Programming in Artificial Intelligence: The First Olympiad, Edited by David Levy, 1989. Chichester, UK: Ellis Horwood.

A person who has played other games approaches a newly-introduced game with certain expectations: there will be rules, players, playing pieces, perhaps a board, and the players will take turns. Although he may be new to the game, experience has taught him what there is to be learned about a game and how to learn it… The AI approach to game playing thus far has been to build a program that plays only a single game, and plays it very well… People learn to play well. In contrast, many game playing machines have little ability to improve without programmer intervention… As they pore over Hitech's experiences [in chess], it is the researchers who are learning from Hitech's experiences, not the machine.

Fields, W.C.

If at first you don't succeed, try, try again. Then quit. No use being a damn fool about it.

Ford, Henry

Thinking is the hardest work there is, which is probably the reason so few engage in it.

Lamb, Charles

Cards are war, in disguise of a sport.

Lombardi, Vince Football coach.

If winning isn't everything, why do they keep score?

We didn't lose the game; we just ran out of time.

Milne, A.A. Not That It Matters, 1919.

It is impossible to win gracefully at chess. No man has yet said "Mate!" in a voice which failed to sound to his opponent bitter, boastful and malicious.

Minsky, Marvin Semantic Information Processing. p. 12. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press (1968).

It is not that the games and mathematical problems are chosen because they are clear and simple; rather it is that they give us, for the smallest initial structures, the greatest complexity, so that one can engage some really formidable situations after a relatively minimal diversion into programming.

Moschella, David

Industry executives and analysts often mistakenly talk about strategy as if it were some kind of chess match. But in chess, you have just two opponents, each with identical resources, and with luck playing a minimal role. The real world is much more like a poker game, with multiple players trying to make the best of whatever hand fortune has dealt them. In our industry, Bill Gates owns the table until someone proves otherwise.

Papert, Seymour (June 1998 issue of Game Developer magazine)

What is best about the best games is that they draw kids into some very hard learning. Did you ever hear a game advertised as being easy? What is worst about school curriculum is the fragmentation of knowledge into little pieces. This is supposed to make learning easy, but often ends up depriving knowledge of personal meaning and making it boring. Ask a few kids: the reason most don't like school is not that the work is too hard, but that it is utterly boring.

Two big lessons I have learned from computer games are opposites of the messages of the ads I was quoting. The first, which I have already noted, is echoed by kids who talk about "hard fun" and they don't mean it's fun in spite of being hard. They mean it's fun because it's hard. Listening to this and watching kids work at mastering games confirms what I know from my own experience: learning is essentially hard; it happens best when one is deeply engaged in hard and challenging activities. The game-designer community has understood (to its great profit) that this is not a cause for worry. The fact is that kids prefer things that are hard, as long as they are also interesting. The preoccupation in America with "Making It Easy" is self-defeating and cause for serious worry about the deterioration of the learning environment.

The second lesson is the opposite of the idea that somehow learning can be encouraged by hiding the fact that it is happening. Frankly, I think that it is downright immoral to trick children into learning and doing math when they think they are just playing an innocent game. To make the situation worse (as if anything can be worse than lying to children), the deception does not achieve any purpose, since cooperative learners who know what they are doing will learn far better than children who go mindlessly through the motions of learning. I can imagine no better example to support this than observing how much more children learn in mastering a tough game than in the same amount of time in math class.

Piaget, Jean

If you want to be creative, stay in part a child, with the creativity and invention that characterizes children before they are deformed by adult society.


The beginning is the most important part of the work.

Sagan, Carl

Understanding is a kind of ecstasy.

Shapiro, Stuart C. and Howard R. Smith Scrabble Crossword Game Playing Program, Reprinted in Computer Games I. Edited by David L. Levy, 1988, New York: Springer Verlag.

When humans play the game, a large easily accessible vocabulary seems to be the most important determiner of victory. One might, therefore, think that it would be easy to write a program that plays the SCRABBLE Crossword Game at championship level. However, several issues are not so clear: How should the lexicon be organized for maximum usefulness? How should a program decide where to play? How can a program take advantage of the small literature on the strategy and tactics of the game? What is the relative importance of a good memory for words vs. skillful decisions about what letters to use or not to use and where to play?

Shaw, George Bernard

Chess is a foolish expedient for making idle people believe they are doing something very clever when they are only wasting their time.

Few people think more than two or three times a year. I've made an international reputation for myself by thinking once or twice a week.

Stratton, Jerry What is Role-Playing?

Role-Playing is getting together with some friends to write a story. It's joining around a campfire or dining room to spin some tall tales. Role-playing is being creative and having fun with friends.

In most role-playing games, one person plays the 'referee,' who can be thought of as the 'Editor' of the story. The Editor will, with input from you if you desire to give any, describe a world, or setting. You and your friends, as Players, will take a character and protagonist in this world, and guide your character through the story that you and your friends are creating.

Watson, Thomas J.

All the problems of the world could be settled easily if men were only willing to think. The trouble is that men very often resort to all sorts of devices in order not to think, because thinking is such hard work.