Emerging Instructional Technology/Simulations and Gaming

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Introduction and Background[edit]

Whether you’re struggling to find your way to the Oregon Territory; competing with other players, or collaborating, to build a great civilization; fighting space aliens, or great magical creatures, the online gaming has cast a spell on the young and not so young people of today. Massively multiplayer online role-playing games (MMORPGs) have become a worldwide phenomenon.

Many events have occurred which have facilitated the development of the MMORPG genre. Koster on his Online World Timeline webpage traces the modern day computer based role playing games (RPGs) to 1937 when J. R. R. Tolkien first published The Hobbit (2007, p. 1). The idea for the video can be traced back to the development of the Nimrod computer in 1951 (Goodeve, 2007, p.1). Morton Heilig’s experiments with virtual reality in the 1950’s and 60’s, (Tate, 1996, p. 1) formed the foundation on which later simulation and gaming technology would be built. In the 1970’s and 80’s the table game Dungeons and Dragons established the ideas and rules on which later online RPGs would be based. Finally the computer gaming explosion of the 1990’s made it economically feasible for businesses to make the type of investment which would be necessary to develop the gaming platforms that are so popular today.

From the time of its inception, online gaming has attracted the interest of educators. "Using computerized role-playing games (RPGs) as learning environments is…not new; it has now been over 20 years since Oregon Trail" (Riegle, 2005, p.1). Many games have been developed in an attempt to use this medium for educational purposes. Two of the most popular educational games Oregon Trail and Where In the World is Carmen Sandiego. Yet, despite some minor successes, educational gaming has struggled to reach the potential that many believe it has and to remain economically viable. Still, many educators believe that the use of games is one of the most effective ways for reaching the current and future generations. Pierce says that “We have created a society of children and adults who are growing up in an environment where continued stimulation is the norm” (Kenneth Pierce - World of Warcraft: The Educational Tool). If the educational system is to remain viable, it must find ways to meet the needs and expectations of the students it seeks to reach.

As MMORPGs have continued to grow in popularity, many educators have begun exploring ways to use the tools that are already popular for educational purposes. According to Foreman, "Videogame technology will one day be the foundation of an educational system that will make the current model look like mule and plow farming before the invention of the steam engine (Foreman, 2007, p.1).


MMORPGs are role playing games played in an online computer based virtual reality setting. Virtual Reality is a simulation of some aspect of the real world, whether it be a walk through an environment, or a military combat simulation” (Tate, 1996, p.1). Virtual reality is a concept that has been around since the earliest days of computers. It has development has continued to the point where the line between reality and virtual reality has for many become blurred. Many aspects of “real life” can be simulated, practiced and even carried out in virtual reality. Second Life is an example of a simulated world where real life transactions are regularly taking place.

MMORPGs use virtual reality as gaming environments. According to Anissimov, “An MMORPG is a computer-based RPG (role playing game) which takes place in an online virtual world with hundreds or thousands of other players (Anissimov, 2007, p. 1). "MMORPGs…are fully formed and fully functional worlds, albeit virtual ones" (Riegle). As already stated, MMORPG stands for Massively, Multiplayer, Online, Role Playing Game.

M – Massively means that the technology is capable of hosting hundreds or thousands of players at one time. While World of Warcraft, which currently has over 9 million subscribers (World of Warcraft, 2007, p.1), and is one of the largest MMORPGs, there are many other online games which qualify for the term massive as they are capable of hosting hundreds of players simultaneously.

M – Multiplayer means that more than one player can interact in the same environment. Players can work collaboratively or competitively to accomplish various goals. In many games, guilds or teams are formed to help the players progress by taking on tasks that are too difficult for individual players.

O – Online means that the game is accessed and played over a network, usually the Internet. Players interact with each other hosted on the same server or realm. Because the game is continuously available, the game can progress even when individual players are offline.

RP – Role playing is the term which originated with the Dungeons and Dragons table games from which most current MMORPGs are modeled. A player pretends to be something that they are not. It means that the player takes on the role or characteristics of predefined characters. Most games have many different options for different types of characters and how those characters can be developed.

G – Game implies that there is a goal which must be reached by overcoming various obstacles. There is much discussion about what constitutes a game. Social worlds such as Second Life have many of the same characteristics as MMORPGs, yet lack many of the motivating factors necessary to create a active gaming environment.



Gaming is has been around for a number of years. There are an increase number of players entering the gaming environment. In any gaming environment, ethical issues must be considered. According to McDonald, “the ethical issue that arised was based on the use of Thottbot while playing World of Warcraft”(2006). The Thottbot database gives users access to information. Gamers can choose a weapon of choice, “change those score ratings themselves such as “stats, armor, gem slots, resistances, spells, combat ratings anything that you'd ever associate with an ingame item” (Schramm, 2007). Some gamers feel that Thottbot gives an “unfair advantage for the Thottbot user that disadvantages other players of WoW [World of Warcraft]who do not use the Thottbot database” (McDonald, 2006, p.1).

The [Warden software monitors]http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Warden_(software), make sure that players are not using cheat software which can, for example, automatically play the game and build up a character's qualities (Ward, 2005, p.1). There is a downside to the software. Hoglund states "I watched The Warden sniff down the e-mail addresses of people I was communicating with on MSN, the URL of several websites that I had open at the time, and the names of all my running programs” (Ward, 2005, p.1). He also noticed “title bars which could contain credit card details or social security numbers” (Ward, 2005, p.1). The digital rights group called “The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) branded the Warden spyware and said its use constituted "a massive invasion of privacy" (Ward, 2005, p.1).

Instructional Use[edit]

Today, students have a need to stay in touch through their cell phones, laptops, instant messaging, text messaging, and email. The gaming environment allows stimulation and communication to play a significant role in the learning process (Pierce, p.1). For example, “Global Kid's Playing 4 Keeps, an after school program in one New York City high school, students work with professional game designers to create a game based on a global issue of their choice” (Phillip, 2006, 1). The game is “set in Haiti that explores the relationship of poverty and education to human rights” (Phillip, 2006, p. 1). Students are able to make decisions “regarding work, education, health over the course of four virtual years” (Phillip, 2006, p.1). The students then look as solutions.

The gaming environment offers players an opportunity to have “be-a-hero goals that encourage players to persist in their efforts” (Prensky, 2007). The game, World of Warcraft helps students develop techniques such as decision-making, action, giving immediate feedback, and reflection that is the basis for all learning” (Prensky, 2007).

Gaming can also help teach students Spanish (Roy, 2007, p. 1). In World of Warcraft, quests offer players opportunities to practice reading Spanish (Prensky, 2007). There is a Spanish client interface on servers in Spain, so the other players all speak Spanish. Dan Roy (2007) states, “I have an intermediate Spanish skill, so I can understand just about everything in the game if I read slowly and keep a computerized dictionary handy” (p.1). He exposes himself to Spanish with playing the game by chatting with other players, looking for “key words that come up over and over again”, and reading quest (Roy, 2007, p.1).

Teachers are finding ways to incorporate Secondlife into the classroom. "Pacific Rim Exchange" (dubbed PacRimX), a cross-cultural project that will link several high schools in the Modesto, California, area to Kyoto Gakuen High School, in Kyoto, Japan, via a group of private "islands" in the Teen Second Life Grid (a separate Second Life space that exists apart from the Main Grid and is open only to kids 13-17 and approved adults)” (Baedeker, 2007, p.1). Students are able to meet virtually before meeting face-to-face. In Secondlife, students will “collaborate to build the island's environment, as well as organize and attend activities” (Baedeker, 2007, p.1). Students should have the "use of and inclusion of various other simulations that can keep them engaged" (Pierce, 2007, p. 1) For example, there is a “floating theater with a screen where students can share videos they have made and a space where participants can post photos such as shots of favorite places in their hometowns” (Baedeker, 2007, p.1). One collaboration assignment “might pair one student from each nation to build a virtual bridge across a Second Life river or re-create a Japanese temple” (Baedeker, 2007, p.1)

With a company like PIXELearning seeing a threefold annual sales increase in the 2006/07 year and the same expectations this year, it is easy to see where the use of games in training is headed (Dobson, , 2007, p1). PIXELearning is a software producer that tailors games to fit their clients objectives. They produce interactive games for educational and training purposes.

Gettin' Good Gear: Play, Pedagogy, and Engagement in World of Warcraft

Conclusions and Recommendations[edit]

According to Foreman, "Videogame technology will one day be the foundation of an educational system that will make the current model look like mule and plow farming before the invention of the steam engine (Foreman, 2007, p.1). Taken from the first part of the article, this is such a powerful statement in conclusion of the research found. When you look at what is happening to PIXELearning's sales it becomes clear more companies are using gaming in their training programs. At a time when many companies are struggling to maintain their sales here we see a company growing over 300 percent per year. Taking this into account along with case studies like the ones involving Civilization III, shows games are being used in the educational environment as well as training. We also see the great advantage to using simulation in medical education. With the increase in need for doctors and nurses cadavers are not always available, nor desired in some cases, to be used in educational labs. In many cases software can be used to train these medical professionals in diseases they would most likely never see without it. From are researches we also see this interactive games being used by health professionals to pinpoint health risk in a virtual world. We also looked at using games for higher learning, in the case study involving World of Warcraft, done by John Bannon, it is shown that where the old one player shooter games, that basically involved fast reflexes, the new MMOG games increase the players higher order learning skills. While he suggested more research needs to be done he found evidence of higher order learning supported by MMOGs.

It would be remiss to not mention the use of digital games used by the military. This is one of the oldest applications for the use of simulation games. While there are many of these games in the commercial market today, in the beginning, the military had these games designed for training soldiers. In the case of the military it is obvious why these games are so important. With the use of these games soldiers are not put in harms way. Where death could be the outcome of a mistake during actual training, the virtual world allows the soldier to make mistakes without a scratch.

Where is all this headed from here? Obviously, there is no turning back. With more companies looking for training where their employees retain the material it becomes evident more are training with digital games. We see more positive studies appearing in favor of using gaming in the education environment. With these positive studies more educational systems will look toward using digital games in the classroom. Also, due to the expansion of online learning, virtual worlds will be replacing the classroom. Companies are already seeing the profitability in creating educational games, with this the expansion of these games is inevitable.

The other determining factor is looking at the ease of creating software. Our group looked at the big picture; remember when you needed to go to a producer in Hollywood to make a movie. Now all you need is a cell phone and an uplink and whala your movie is on YouTube for millions to see. This is also happening to some extent in the gaming world. While not everyone can produce a high quality game, yet. It is certainly a possibility in the future

Examples/Case Studies[edit]

In the following section, case studies will be presented to give you an idea of the wide range of areas where simulation, virtual worlds, and digital games are being used today. A brief description will be given for each case study, or example, to see the study or article in full either follow the link or view the reference in the resource section.

Seer Limited wanted a game to train it’s sale force. They contacted PIXELearning to create a game for them the outcome the BAT, (business assessment tools), game. The game puts the user, typically ‘big ticket’ IT sales people into a life like situation. They have the same tools they will have as an actual salesperson, a PC, videophone, and a PDA. They control the outcome based on the decisions they make. For the complete case study go to http://www.pixelearning.com/about_us-client_case_studies_seer.htm.

European Innovation and The V-Biz Consultancy wanted to create a games-based product that covered the basics of export action planning. They knew they did not have the expertise in game creation so contacted PIXELearning. After examining the client’s needs, they created the export game. The game puts the user into a the same situation they would find if they were trying to start overseas commerce. The user has to do research on fictitious companies and make decisions on companies to trade with. For the complete case study go to http://www.pixelearning.com/about_us-client_case_studies_export.htm.

Coca-Cola also became a customer of PIXELearning. They were looking for a game to put online at their website for users to learn more about the company in a fun environment. PIXELearning created the “business game” for them. They created the game in 4 weeks and gave Coca-Cola a fresh new look on their website. To view the entire case study, go to http://www.pixelearning.com/about_us-client_case_studies_cocacola.htm.

I generally would not use one company for three case studies but was very impressed with the work of PIXELearning. I would strongly recommend viewing a PowerPoint located here http://www.pixelearning.com/serious_games-white_papers.htm. The name of the one I liked in particular was, “Flash-based Immersive Learning Environments.” It was used in a presentation by the CEO Kevin Corti.

This case study involved the situational awareness of police officers that were trained in a virtual reality compared to traditional training. It was an experimental study that showed officers trained in the virtual reality scored better than traditional training. This was a study published in Military Psychology (Saus, 2006. p3).

This is an article on the extremes that the military is going to in order to make their virtual reality as real as possible. This article is very interesting, it explains how smoke, lighting, even vibration is being used to create the virtual scene. It would sound more like creating a Hollywood set, but is really a training tool. You can find this article at http://0-search.ebscohost.com.unistar.uni.edu/login.aspx?direct=true&db=afh&AN=23249737&site=ehost-live (Carlson, 2006, 36).

This study is much like the military but set in an operating room. It is used to train doctors, nurses, and surgeons. Unlike many virtual settings this uses everything you would find in the OR. The details such as lighting, OR equipment, and the addition of nurses has been found to help the students become more aware of reality in a virtual environment. The simulation can even take a turn for the worse where a student goes in for what is presumed to be a simple procedure where they may end up with complications and remain in surgery for up to 5 hours (Brown, 2006, 32).

Civilization III probably is one of the most studied games on the commercial market. These are two of the case studies done on Civilization III. The first study looks at students replaying history and possibly making changes they want. This is found to aid in learning in a fun environment for student that generally did not like history and were repeating the course (Kafai, 2004, 22). In the second article Mr. Squire examines a case study and relates the findings. He also examines other games in this article and tells how they stimulate learning and help the student relate to the bigger picture (Squire, 2006, 19).

In this case study we find the game Morrowind used to show students how the choices they make have future consequences. This study also shows the motivation factor games in the classroom has on students. They come to class and want to learn (Kadakia, 2005, 29).

In this case study the author looks at how the World of Warcraft creates higher order learning skills. While the author admits more research is needed he feels the results do indicate that playing World of Warcraft does translate into players having higher order learning skills. You can find the complete case study here http://edtec.sdsu.edu/portfolios/key1/examples/bannon/jbannon/Online_Digital_Gaming.pdf (Bannon, 2006 p1).

This game lets the student or player choose an area of the world where they were born. From this, the game puts the student into the environment in that country. This game is already being used in several school systems as a way to teach students the struggles of others in third world countries. I only listed the main page but from here, you can access many items, such as teacher plans that will complement the game, school districts that are using the game, and a free game trial. To see more about Real Lives go to http://educationalsimulations.com/index.html (Educational Simulations, 2007 p1)

“Pacific Rim Exchange (dubbed PacRimX), a cross-cultural project that will link several high schools in the Modesto, California, area to Kyoto Gakuen High School, in Kyoto, Japan, via a group of private "islands" in the Teen Second Life Grid (a separate Second Life space that exists apart from the Main Grid and is open only to kids 13-17 and approved adults)” (Baedeker, 2007, p.1).

Gaming can also help teach students Spanish (Roy, 2007, p. 1). In the World of Warcraft, quests offer players opportunities to practice reading Spanish (Prensky, 2007). There is a Spanish client interface on servers in Spain, so the other players all speak Spanish. Dan Roy (2007) states, “I have an intermediate Spanish skill, so I can understand just about everything in the game if I read slowly and keep a computerized dictionary handy” (p.1). He exposes himself to Spanish with playing the game by chatting with other players, looking for “key words that come up over and over again”, and reading quest (Roy, 2007, p.1).

This concludes the section on case studies it should give you a view of the wide range of areas where games, simulations, and virtual worlds are being used.


Anissimov, M. (2007). What is a MMORPG? [Accessed December 12, 2007], http://www.wisegeek.com/what-is-a-mmorpg.htm, 1

Baedeker, R. (2007). Student exchange, without the jet lag: educational collaboration in a virtual world. [Accessed December 9, 2007][1]

Bannon, J. (2006). Case Study: Development of Higher Order Learning Skills in Online Digital Gaming. [Retrieved December 12, 2007]. http://edtec.sdsu.edu/portfolios/key1/examples/bannon/jbannon/Online_Digital_Gaming.pdf

Brown, A. (2006. November). Virtual O.R. Mechanical Engineering, 128, 32-35,

Dobson, J. (2007). Industry news. PIXELearning sees 'threefold' annual sales increase. [Retrieved December 12, 2007][2]

Carlson, S. (2006. November, 24)War games go virtual. Chronicle of Higher Education, 53, 36 -38. December 12, 2007], http://seriousgamessource.com/item.php?story=13992

Educational Simulations. (2007). Real lives. [Retrieved December 12, 2007]. http://educationalsimulations.com/index.html

Foreman, J. (2007). Advanced learning communities: Is gaming the future of education? [Accessed December 12, 2007], http://www.convergemag.com/story.php?catid=231&storyid=97420, 1

Goodeve, P. (2007). Nimrod. [Accessed December 12, 2007], http://jwgibbs.cchem.berkeley.edu/nimrod, 1

Is gaming the future of education? [Accessed December 12, 2007], http://www.convergemag.com/, 1

Koster, R. (2007). MMORPG timeline. [Accessed December 12, 2007], http://www.raphkoster.com/,

Kadakia, M. (2005, September/October). Increasing student engagement by using Morrowind to analyze choices and consequences. TechTrends: Linking research and practice to improve learning, 49, 29 - 32.

Kafai, Y. (2004) Embracing diversity in the learning sciences: Proceedings of ICLS 2004 June 22-26 University of California Los Angeles Santa Monica, CA., Replaying history: Engaging urban underserved students in learning world history through computer simulation games. Florence Kentucky, Lawrence Erlbaum.

McDonald, D.(2006). Expertise Management and World of Warcraft.[Accessed December 11, 2007], http://www.ddmcd.com/managing-technology/expertise-management-and-world-of-warcraft.html

Phillips, A. (2006). Video game designers tackle real world problems. Voice of America. [Retrieved December 9, 2007]. Click here to view.

Pierce, K. (2007). World of warcraft: The educational tool, The selected works of Kenneth Pierce. [Retrieved December 12, 2007], http://works.bepress.com/kenneth_pierce/2

PIXELearning. (2007). Seer sales training game. [Retrieved December 12, 2007]. http://www.pixelearning.com/about_us-client_case_studies_seer.htm , 1

PIXELearning. (2007). The export game. [Retrieved December 12, 2007]. http://www.pixelearning.com/about_us-client_case_studies_export.htm , 1

PIXELearning. (2007). The business game. [Retrieved December 12, 2007]. http://www.pixelearning.com/about_us-client_case_studies_cocacola.htm ,1

Prensky, M. (2007). Sims vs. games. Edutopia Magazine. [Retrieved December 10, 2007].http://www.edutopia.org/sims-vs-games#comment-16941

Riegle, R.P. Dr. & Matejka, W.A.. (2005). 21st annual conference on distance teaching and learning.

Dying to learn: Instructional design and MMORPGs. [Retrieved March 29, 2006], from http://www.uwex.edu/disted/conference/Resource_library/proceedings/05_1634.pdf.

Roy, D. (2007). Warcraft teaches Spanish, part 1. The educational arcade. [Retrieved December 9, 2007]. http://www.educationarcade.org/node/239

Saus, E. (2006. July). The effect of brief situational awareness training in a police shooting simulator: An experimental study. Military Psychology, 18, 3-21.

Schramm, M. (2007). Thottbot introduces interface upgrades, new scoring system. WOW insider. [Retrieved December 11, 2007]. http://www.wowinsider.com/2007/07/18/thottbot-introduces-interface-upgrades-new-scoring-system/

Squire, K. (2006, November). From content to context: Videogames as designed experience. Educational Researcher, 35, 19 -29.

Tate, S. (1996). Virtual reality: A historical perspective. [Retrieved December 12, 2007], http://ei.cs.vt.edu/~history/Tate.VR.html, 1

Ward, M. (2005). Warcraft game maker in spying row. BBC News website. [Retrieved December 12, 2007]. http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/technology/4385050.stm