Avatars in Whyville.netWhat a long strange trip it’s been. First, video games were seen as nothing more than a waste of time, then they were said to be a scourge that was turning young, impressionable players into zombified serial killers or worse. More recently, thanks to the work of people like Jim Gee, the conversation has shifted to how video games are an ideal learning environment. So which is it?

Dr. Jim Bower is a computational neuroscientist at the University of Texas and the CEO of Numedeon, publishers of the first massively multiplayer virtual world for tweens, Whyville.net. He’s also one of the smartest and more opinionated people I’ve had the pleasure of working with in the serious games field, and has never been known to shy away from this debate. He was on a panel “The Future of Video Games” and interviewed at the South By Southwest festival earlier this year, portions of which were recently published in the September 2010 issue of Discover Magazine (.pdf), and discussed why he thinks video games are good for learning.

Looking at whether video games are different from other forms of play, Dr. Jim observes: “We look at this thing and we think it’s new. It’s not. This is something we’ve made in our own image. What we’re doing is trying to capture how humans really learn, how humans really interact, and how humans really build their societies. An in fact (we’re finding) it’s not new at all. It’s very old. The problem is, for the last 600 years we’ve been doing it wrong (and until now) we haven’t had the technology to do it right.”

Here’s the entire panel discussion, moderated by Discover’s Amos Zeeberg, with Tiffany Barnes (University of North Carolina), Lucy Bradshaw (Maxis), Anne McLaughlin (North Carolina State), that was the basis of the article:

Here’s an more in-depth interview with Dr. Jim:

And for more on Whyville, games and learning read: Whyville.net from an academic perspective read Dr. Yasmin Kafai’s blog Everything Whyville! which serves as a repository and forum for her research;  The Whyville Insider blog about Whyville by Whyvillians; and Dr. Jim Bowers proposal for a panel called “Death of the Textbook, Emergence of Games” at the 2011 SXSW Festival.

Contact Us