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Chapter 6 The future: Urban Science
In chapter 6, Shaffer highlights a game called Urban Science, where players take on the role of urban planners. In some ways, it is similar to SimCity. Many elements of designing a city are the same. However, Shaffer refers to SimCity as a “God” game because players can basically do whatever they want within the game. They can build or tear down at their pleasure. There is no real accountability for their actions nor any collaboration required as part of the game structure. As a result, SimCity does not provide any opportunity for an authentic learning experience or explore what it means to really be an urban planner. Urban Science on the other hand, is designed to replicate as much as possible an urban planning training practicum. Players are asked to view the virtual world through the epistemic frame of an urban planer. Just as in the previous chapters, Shaffer examines how this game allows players to develop skills, knowledge, identities, values, and epistemology that urban planner use to think in innovative ways in order to create a comprehensive plan for the virtual community. The hope of course, is that if players can learn to think like an innovative professional and solve problems in the virtual game world, that they will learn to be able to think like an innovative professional and solve problems in the real world.
The rest of the chapter, Shaffer talks about his hopes for the future and the role that epistemic games will play in education. For the immediate future, he sees them being utilized in “third” spaces, such as summer camps, learning resource centers or after school programs- basically a place outside of a formal instruction, but also not just “free play”. The focus should be just on learning and not selling games or trying to get students to meet standards. Shaffer feels that as more of these epistemic games are developed, they will demonstrate what happens when you “think outside of the box” and will put pressure on schools to make needed changes to how they approach teaching.
My final thoughts on this chapter is that Shaffer makes a very compelling case for looking to games as a way to help students prepare to become innovative professionals in the future. My only concern is that all the games that he discusses in the book still don’t seem to be widely available yet, which raises some questions since the first addition of the book was written in 2006. He does talk about commercial games that are available, but then points out all they are not really epistemic games. In all the case studies, he talks about the dramatic and measurable improvement that the participants seem to have after playing the games. So if the games are proven to be this effective, why are they not available yet? My guess is that the games weren’t ready for market yet. They probably had a ton of bugs and didn’t have the look or feel of commercial games. In order to get the games ready for market, Epistemic Games probably needed to raise a boat load of capital. Now the investors probably want a return on investment, so when the games do become available, they will probably become commercial games. It seems the best way to test the games is to have a huge number of people play the games. If it were me, I would put then up on the internet and make them free for everyone.