Education and gaming: Serious Fun offers a new look at games

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Games have a massive amount of potential for storytelling, immersion, fun, frights, tears — but what about education? Serious Fun, a gaming event coming to UAA April 17, hopes to answer that question.

Melissa White, an instructional designer at UAA Academic Innovations and eLearning, is helping organize the event.

“Serious Fun brings together higher education faculty, students, and K-12 teachers and students interested in using games and gamification for teaching and learning,” said White. “It’s about taking risks by exploring innovative and fun approaches to engaging students.”

While there are many games that players would consider educational, many video game players also see value in general games as well.

“Even non-educational games can help, like team games that could help with team-building skills,” said Riley Lyons, an undeclared major at UAA. “And even a game like Zoo Tycoon can teach you how to manage money and take care of animals.”

However, while many associate the Serious Fun event with video gaming, White hopes to use other kinds of games for educational purposes as well.

“I include storytelling, board games, virtual reality, video games, role playing, achievements and badging all as a part of Serious Fun,” said White.

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Many educators have found difficulty finding a stress-free environment for teaching, but White feels that gaming is a perfect fit for this issue.

“For me, at the heart of this idea is giving students the opportunity to practice, learn, improve and grow without the fear of a major assessment looming,” said White.

In addition to this, there are increasing avenues for using games technologically. Graphics technology in gaming continues to improve, and new developments like virtual reality and augmented reality are becoming options for educators.

Augmented reality refers to technology that uses cameras and motion tracking to insert characters and/or items into the real world, and White is optimistic about its applications. She said she ultimately believe that these simulations can solve real-world problems, and Serious Fun aims to open educators’ eyes to see how that can be done.