Demise of the #Gameophobes

It has been over two years since I challenged the audience at TEDx Gramercy to bring games into their lives as a way to transform the way they learn, and to avoid being a “Game-o-Phobe.” Now that our next generation of speakers is ready to take the stage at TEDx Gramercy 2014, I thought it would be a good idea to consider the changes in public perception of games and the transformation of learning over the last two years.

One thing that is abundantly clear is that games are no longer considered child’s play

We are in the midst of a revolution in how people play, perceive, and consume games, which I am confident will have long-lasting effects on how we as a society view the place of games in our lives. Just consider the front cover of the New York Times on August 31, 2014. The headline read “In e-Sports, Video Gamers Draw Real Crowds and Real Money.” Note the use of the word “Real” twice, an acknowledgement that games should be taken seriously by serious people. The picture to the left shows thousands of people filling the Key

The International – one of the largest e-Sport tournaments in the World attracts thousands in person and millions on-line

Arena in Seattle watching The International, a video game tournament where the winning team would walk away with a $6 million purse.

Two years ago, most of us had never heard of e-sports, but it was already an incredibly popular form of entertainment. In 2013 more people watched the League of Legends Season 3 World Championship than watched Game 7 of the NBA Finals, the BCS College Football Championship, and the World Series!

Watching professional video-gamers play live in massive tournaments is just the tip of the iceberg. Amazon recently purchased a company called Twitch for over $1B. Twitch is a website and App that allows people to watch others play video games. Some watch for pure entertainment, but others use it to learn how to play games better. Microsoft has been reported to be in talks with the creators of ridiculously popular game

Total Viewers in Millions of Major 2013 Sporting Events

Minecraft for $2B. And, last but not least, consider the recent purchase of Oculus Rift by Facebook for $2B. Oculus Rift is a virtual reality headset that provides true sensory immersion that has the potential to not only transform games, but the way that we interact and share experiences virtually. (Think The Matrix, but with a happier backstory.) I just received our Oculus yesterday, and after just a short time using it, I am confident that this is a game changer (pun intended).

On the educational front, there is positive movement towards the use of games in traditional educational processes as well. Scholars are beginning to better understand the role that games can play in the educational process. While traditional lectures, textbooks, and tests will always have a place in developing cognitive skills, research has proven that games are superior at developing non-cognitive skills, such as collaboration, grit, communication, and discipline, which are essential to successful development and success in our ever-more collaborative and networked world.

However, as anyone knows who has a child, parents are as much a part of the educational process as the teachers and administrators of our schools. Without acceptance by parents, games will be relegated to the “wasted time category” when at home. As a parent of a 5th grade boy who spent a lot of his summer playing Minecraft, Dota2, and Team Fortress, I understand the tension that one feels when seeing their child sitting for hours on end in front of a computer on a beautiful summer day.

That being said, I do sense a shift in attitudes towards games in the media and in my day to day interactions with other parents. A recent dinner table discussion with six other parents on the virtues of Minecraft showed a true appreciation of how it can lead to the development of creativity, curiosity, collaboration, and mischief. Recently my son, Asher, was inspired to improve his Minecraft building skills, and, using the Internet, he found multiple guides on YouTube describing how to design different structures. The results were fantastic. His new Minecraft home is worthy of Architectural Digest. 

Oculus Rift VR Headset – The Next Breakthrough in Games and Education?

This is the type of experience that gets me excited about the future of games and learning. Imagine a world where Asher would get as excited about American History as he is about Minecraft. Maybe he is playing a game where he takes on the role of George Washington as he is managing the Winter Camp in Morristown, NJ and must keep his army well-fed and morale high in order to be prepared to take on the British in the coming spring. He wants to learn more about how you improve morale so he uses the Internet to research the drivers of morale in troops. He wants to keep his army healthy so he learns about the most effective and nutritious foods to buy.

This type of user-directed learning is often ignited by an inspirational teacher. We can all remember that one teacher that made us want to learn more. Games have the power to not only enhance that teacher’s ability to inspire, but to create a whole new way to inspire us to want to learn more. For more on this concept, James Gee, a games researcher, discusses the power of games to create engagement

and interest that leads to user-directed learning in his talk Learning With Video Games (

Inspiring others to learn through games is not only possible, but it is already being done by innovative and creative teachers and leaders around the world. However, it requires extra work, time, and expertise to build these game-based learning experiences. The skills required to build these learning experiences are very different than the skills that are typically associated with developing teaching and training experiences.

So the question must be posed again, as it was in my TEDx talk two years ago: Where does this leave us — should we be optimistic or pessimistic about the future of games in learning?

I believe that we are on the cusp of a major transformation in how we learn. Games are now serious business, and money will help address many of the technological barriers to developing games that educate. Members of Generation X, the first generation to be raised playing video games, are now in leadership positions at both academic and corporate settings which is leading to more excitement and experimentation with games for learning. Also, the promise of combining the decision-making process of games with the analytical power of big data will allow us to finally address one of the most vexing challenges of education — measuring the effectiveness of our efforts.

So congratulations game-lovers, we are making progress. This is a great time to be a gamer who believes in the power of games to not only entertain but to transform how we live, work, and learn. I look forward to hearing what you have done in the last two years to bring gaming into your life, your work, and your play!

Send me your favorite articles, links, and videos to @MarshallBmann on Twitter #nogameophobes.