White House Pursues Gaming Research

The White House is pursuing research into the potential civic benefits of video games. USAToday offers insight into this investigation.

Constance Steinkuehler, of the University of Wisconsin, has relocated to Washington, D.C. and  is leading an 18-month investigation on the civic potential of video games for the White House. She’s researching a way to make good on the claim that games have real promise to better life.

Steinkuehler studies video games. Since last September, she has been a senior policy analyst at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, where she’s shaping the Obama administration’s policies around games that improve health, education, civic engagement and the environment, among other areas.

At the same time, researchers are finding that, for all the bad press, video games make exceptional teaching machines. The past few years have seen a flurry of titles — many of them playable for free online — that teach a huge array of skills and content.

Much of this information is already acknowledged by the general public. There are, however, still a large number of people that are against video games, based on the bad press, personal experience, or word-of-mouth. It’s important for Constance’s work to outline the benefits of video games, to serve as a resource for those who have not yet realized their potential.

When they hear the phrase “video game,” most Americans think Pac-Man or, more recently, Grand Theft Auto, a popular series that allows players to cut a wide swath of carnage if they choose. The 1999 Columbine High School shootings had a profound effect on Americans’ views of video games: After the shootings, victims’ families sued more than two dozen game makers, saying violent games such as Doom, a first-person shooter that the assailants played, desensitized them to gun violence. But the lawsuit was dismissed and subsequent research has cast doubt on direct links between video-game and real-life violence. More than a decade later, government and private enterprise have turned to video games repeatedly for training and education. More recently, a thriving genre of “serious games” has emerged, using video game mechanics to immerse players in history, science, civics and health, among other areas.

“Where we’re not worried about the fragile mental state of our children, we know games work,” says Duke University professor Cathy Davidson, author of the 2011 book Now You See It: How the Brain Science of Attention Will Transform the Way We Live, Work, and Learn.

Among the most widely acclaimed gaming experiments is Foldit, developed at the University of Washington’s Center for Game Science, that challenges players to learn about the shapes of proteins and compete online to fold them into the most efficient shapes. The most elegant solutions could help scientists develop cures for Alzheimer’s disease, AIDS and cancer, among others.

To read more about the potential civic benefits of video games, and to hears additional information on the work that Constance is doing at the White House, read the full article online at USAToday.

Published August 13, 2012