Evidence

Consider a review of research on the utility of video games for education.

I’ve just finished a moiling task of compression. Mostly finished actually. I still have to incorporate feedback, but the basic job is complete. If you’re curious you can view the upshot on the Humaginarium website, in the Evidence option of the Resources menu.

Readers of this blog know that brevity is not my forte. Getting straight to the point is difficult. Why do you suppose one of my favorite novels is Tristram Shandy? The other day I dreaded hearing a venture capitalist say he won’t consider pitches that take more than a few seconds to read on his phone. Sadly, it seems easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a prolix startup to enter the kingdom of unicorns.

Where was I? Ah, compression! My task involved reading 500 pages of scholarship in a book named Computer Games and Instruction, edited by Sig Tobias and Dex Fletcher (2011). This brick-like tome reviews research on the hypothetical utility of video games for learning. More than 30 experts contributed chapters on various types of educational games, for example Jan Cannon-Bowers on games for health.

(By the way the book lacks a chapter about games for industry and commerce. Ian Bogost punted an invitation to write it, perhaps after thinking it over for a while. He asked the editors to invite me, which they did on fairly short notice. I’m not as clever as Ian so I accepted without thinking and tried – but failed – to write a brilliant chapter on video games for business. I knew there were many, believed in their utility, and had myself designed some, but I didn’t find much research to review. Neither could Sig and Dex. I eventually inferred that some companies invest ambitiously in games and gamification but the return on these investments is still uncertain. This despite the Kirkpatrick model of training evaluation.)

I digress. Though my chapter is not in Computer Games and Instruction, I admire the other contributors and consider the book a touchstone. It answers a question I’ve been asked many times, which goes something like this: “I don’t get it. Why video games?” It would be ideal if I could simply hand the book to skeptics. However VCs are not alone in their aversion to plodding. I may be the only general reader the book ever had because it’s a slog to read cover-to-cover, with numbness encroaching the cerebral cortex.

Having studied it though, my next step was to compress the scholarly evidence that is relevant to Humaginarium. I needed to set aside the academic rhetoric, the footnotes, the caveats, the attributions, the anecdotes and examples, in order to succinctly and confidently state that well-designed video games do – in fact and beyond reasonable doubt – promote learning.

I filtered the 500 pages for the gold dust: a couple dozen solid claims. I then asked several scholarly and industry experts to vet the claims, in order to root out confirmation bias and add things I may have overlooked. Each claim occupies one slide: clean black text centered on plain white background. My months of labor takes about five minutes to read and think about, but I didn’t actually create it for reading. It’s for talking.

My pitch for Humaginarium is actually not about the efficacy of video games for education. I doubt investors care about that. Instead it’s about the promise of Humaginarium to return multiples on their investment in a reasonably short period of time. I have only a few minutes to make that case in the language of numbers.

That said, a minority of investors intrigued by the numbers may want to know why Humaginarium promises to improve health literacy and empower self-care with, of all things, exciting video games. That’s when I’ll bring forth the evidence. We’ll talk about it while not looking at our phones.

Author: Robert S. Becker, Phd

Founder and CEO of Humaginarium LLC

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