Some of my research involves these areas: game studies/gamification (also called digital game-based learning); ethnography (a methodology); and transformative learning. I am specifically interested in the affordances of sandbox games. Since my profession is that of English instructor, many people ask me: Why study digital games?
Research in the area of digital game-based learning has grown immensely since the first text-based virtual worlds grew popular in the 1970s (Bartle, 1990). Recently, scholars have examined virtual world games in terms of pedagogical concerns in distance education, blended learning, and simulated environments (Coffman & Klinger, 2007; Harris, Mishra & Koehler, 2009; Robbins-Bell, 2008; Salmon, 2009; Warburton, 2009). One strand of my dissertation will focus on the trend of virtual world games, specifically "sandbox" games, and how this digital tool connects with educational technology as a means for facilitating learning.
Virtual world games continue to grow in popularity, and interest in games as educational tools increases (Luse, Mennecke, & Triplett, 2013). As this trend matures, its definition and applications continue to expand. The New Media Consortium (NMC) recently published its Horizon Report 2013: Higher Education in which the term “Digital Game-Based Learning” was updated to “Games and Gamification” (p. 21). The new nomenclature indicates a broadening of the trend and indicates a more detailed understanding of its application. For example, games might be included as part of a classroom curriculum, but principles gleaned from game design might also be applied to learning environments. Indeed, the new terminology “reflects the perspective that while games are effective tools for scaffolding concepts and simulating real world experiences, it should also include the larger canvas of gamer culture and game design” (NMC, 2013, p. 21).
Industry research also confirms the rapidly increasing use of virtual world games (as opposed to traditional puzzle games or drill-and-skill games). KZero (2012), a consulting company that researches the virtual world gaming industry, recently reported rapid growth in the use of virtual worlds. KZero found that approximately 80% of Internet users visit virtual worlds. Industry forecasts for virtual worlds predict continued growth in industry, education, and private sectors (Fenn, 2009; Gartner, 2008). Private virtual worlds are currently peaking in popularity among new media, and within 5 to 10 years, public virtual worlds will become mainstream (Prentice & Fenn, 2010). In 2010 virtual world use grew by nearly 47% in the 10- to 15-year old category; these adolescents and teens will be “well-versed and familiar with virtual worlds” by the time they reach adulthood (KZero, 2011, p. 5).
Clearly, virtual worlds are impacting our culture. Professionals in educational technology and higher education might benefit from examining how people learn in virtual worlds, especially within the next decade as these teens become college-aged adults.