White House studying use of video games in education

A recent interview done by NPR with Constance Steinkuehler, a senior policy analyst at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy reveals that the White House is looking into the benefits of using video games in education. A lot of the research done on video games in the past years has been looking into the relationship between video game violence and actual violence. However, as studies began to show that no such relationship exists, research turned toward how video games can be used to positively benefit society.

“It turns out that many of those relationships just haven’t borne out in the research, and new fields have emerged around looking at how games function as a means for turning screen time into activity time,” said Steinkuehler in the interview. According to Steinkuehler, federal investments in games is not a new concept, and dates back well before the Obama administration.

Funding was originally directed towards military training and simulations, and Steinkuehler is now working to make sure that the government is making the most of those investments. Steinkuehler argues that the point of a federal investment is to pick up where the market stops, and points to pharmaceuticals as another possible avenue to investigate.

A virtual environment developed in MOSES, an OpenSim grid. (Image courtesy Douglas Maxwell.)

However, the call for video games in education is also coming from higher up. Last year in March, the president addressed the Tech Boston Academy and told them “I want you guys to be stuck on a video game that’s teaching you something, other than just blowing something up.” He said that educational video games can be just as compelling as regular main stream video games, and in fall of last year hired Steinkuehler.

The Obama administration has looked into the practical uses of video games before. Back in 2010, the Obama administration asked Microsoft to build a federal budget flash game, which they hoped would give average citizens an idea of how difficult balancing the federal budget actually is. The game was released in 2011, and can be played here. The army also sponsors the Federal Virtual Worlds Challenge, which is designed to showcase the use of virtual worlds in education.

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Anastasia Trombly

Anastasia Trombly is a freelance technology and medical writer based in Massachusetts. In her spare time she writes a blog about the ups and downs of being a Linux user.

  • The budget game referenced in the article has little relationship to virtual worlds. However, it’s fun, interesting, and a great concept illustrating a meaningful use of simulation scenarios. Thanks for the link. (BTW, I reduced the U.S. debt from 75.5% of GDP to 58.8% of GDP without any extreme measures)

  • Looks to be a fun game. I a going to have to try this game out. thanks for the article.  

  • Ben Sawyer

    “Back in 2010, the Obama administration asked Microsoft to build a federal budget flash game, which they hoped would give average citizens an idea of how difficult balancing the federal budget actually is. The game was released in 2011, and can be played here.

    This is wrong. Budget Hero was developed originally by The Serious Games Initiative at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars with funds provided by the Richard A. Lounsbery Foundation, and some additional funding from MacArthur and PBS. I did some of the original work on this way back when including some of the original design structure with Michael Gesner from Dragon Fly Game Design and then American Public Media took it on and worked with Woodrow to further flesh out the game. The development and interface were designed by 360Kid out of Boston. Today Woodrow continues to work on the project especially working on the updated data the game relies on.

    The original instigation for the game was from GAO via David Walker who was then the head of GAO. The idea was to provide a game that showed the need to reform long term entitlements and the core fundamental structure of the Federal Budget and how it worked. To understand entitlements must be changed by changing the rules by which you derive savings (or not) and the discretionary budget when chopped by a specific amount results in specific services and otherwise being halted. That it’s difficult wasn’t necessarily the goal – we knew that would be the outcome regardless. What we wanted was for people to realize that their specific whims of “do this/do that” didn’t necessarily make the entire problem any easier. Microsoft was never involved in the project and the original work actually pre-dated the 1st Obama administration.

    The Obama Budget game article here “http://kotaku.com/5517495/obama-administration-wants-microsoft-to-make-a-video-game” is about an entirely different initiative and was a idea floated by Erskine Bowels who was not officially a member of the administration but was appointed by the President to the deficit commission (aka Simpson Bowles) vs. being “on staff” Of course all of this is somewhat ironic because through GAO, Lounsbery, Woodrow, etc. The Serious Games Initiative had already worked on that problem.

    Budget Hero is decent. It was a fun project to do. That being said, there are many many things the team wanted to do were budget and time allowed. I hope people do more games on this. There have been a few state ones done (most Notably MassBalance which Michael Gesner led as a student at WPI and was an inspiration for Budget Hero) and one done for the national budget in France. What you learn in doing them isn’t necessarily the scope of the problem but that these budgets are not monolithic even though the rhetoric about them usually is.