“Perception of computer games in non-gaming contexts"

Mats Wiklund
As computer games have evolved from single-player entities to complex, highly communicative on-line game worlds, their potential to fill different roles in society has grown. One aspect of this change is that various forms of computer mediated communication may become increasingly associated with games in various ways. Another issue is that of extensive exposure to computer games possibly leading to behavioural change through the mechanism of neuroplasticity, as argued by some researchers.  Finally, since experiences from using game-like software designed explicitly for teaching purposes, edutainment, have been reported to be somewhat disappointing, the alternative to use unmodified straight-from-the-shelf computer games as learning environments in school is an interesting option.

To investigate these issues a series of empirical studies were conducted, the first of which were dual interview studies with students of various ages in schools in two different regions, mapping their communication habits and associations of these with games. Secondly, a series of longitudal studies were performed during the course of a four-year experimental school project, where a class of upper secondary education students used regular computer games as their main didactic environment in school.

Results show that computer mediated chat, as well as peer-to-peer file sharing, is in various ways spontaneously associated with computer games to a substantial degree. Empathy with game developers’ efforts is identified as a possible countermeasure against software piracy of games, as opposed to legislation. The theory of neuroplasticity induced behavioural change as a result of extensive exposure to computer games is corroborated by empirical observations, but not proven since other possible mechanisms are also present. The longitudal data indicates a high didactic potential in regular computer games used as learning tools in school. The teacher’s role is not marginalized but is perceived as essential by participating students, and a systematic model for evaluating the didactic potential of multimodal media such as computer games is needed.