Communicating science through games?

Games are all about play, right? Things you do for pleasure, in your spare time, and are really just messing about, right? Perhaps not.

One of the sessions I attended at the Science Communication Conference (#scicom12) was entitled “Evaluating games: Learning through play”. The session focused almost solely on the impact and evaluation of online games rather then the concept of “play”, but it was very interesting.

There is a whole world of games out there that I did not know existed; games that are designed to educate through simulation. One that really caught my attention during the talks was September 12 by Gonzalo Frasca. (Click here to play) The idea is to shoot (or not) terrorists in a busy simulated town. As you take aim and shoot, a missile is fired, ultimately destroying buildings and killing innocent civilians along with terrorists. As the civilians mourn the death of the innocents, they then become terrorists and soon the town is demolished and terrorists outnumber the civilians. The message is clear and powerful; violence creates more violence, terrorism creates terrorists. Clearly Frasca believed the war on terror to be wrong, but this was not the main aim of the game. The game is currently used in schools and museums to encourage debate and discussion in young people about terrorism and war.

The Tilt Factor is a website involved in “game design for social change”  and they have some really cool stuff, such as a game called “Pox“, which aims to teach children about immunisation through a board game designed for 1-4 players. It is so important for children to have an understanding of vaccination and disease and the science behind it, especially with the current controversy surrounding the issue in (particularly American) public health policy.

I really like this idea of learning through play and gaming, without it being an overtly “educational” game. Admittedly something I had absolutely no prior knowledge about the topic, but I feel that there is real opportunity for science communicators to take advantage of this medium of gaming to engage the wider public with science and scientific ideas and concepts.

What do you think? Can you think of any science topics that could be really well communicated through a game? I’m particularly interested in how the impact of learning through games could be evaluated. I think there’s definitely an opportunity for science communication there.


“It’s real chemistry!”

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2 thoughts on “Communicating science through games?

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