During a conference call today at our Games for Learning Institute, somebody on the line asked why we think games can be good for learning. My colleagues and I have been completely immersed in the science of this for the last few years, and it was refreshing to hear such a basic question.

The many parts of the answer include better ways to motivate learning, the ability to tailor teaching to each individual learner (and to that learner’s current level of skill in each part of a subject), methods of evaluation built right into the learning experience (potentially replacing formal tests, as well as the bane of “studying for the test”), better ability to do reliable large-scale assessment of the effectiveness of any given learning product, better ways to bridge the gap between formal (in-classroom) and informal learning, and the potential to give a teacher more complete and nuanced insight into the progress and needs of each individual student.

But at the moment the question was asked, I didn’t think about those things. Instead, my mind flashed on the mid 1920s, in those last years before talkies replaced silent movies. Faced with the idea of people talking at audiences from cinema screens, it would have been reasonable for Jay Gatsby or Daisy Buchanan to wonder why anyone would do such a thing. Such a disruptive change might have, within their frame of reference, seemed absurd. After all, wouldn’t all that incessant chatter simply take away from what movies were really about — moving images?

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