Videogames: ‘Hotbeds of scientific thinking for kids’

They may be "tuning out of science in the classroom," as a Wired News commentary puts it, but gamers are still learning and (avidly) practicing science, Prof. Constance Steinkuehler at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, found in a soon-to-be-published study, "Scientific Habits of Mind in Virtual Worlds." She and her co-author, Sean Duncan, "downloaded the content of 1,984 posts in 85 threads in a discussion board for players of World of Warcraft. What did they find? Only a minority of the postings were 'banter' or idle chat. In contrast, a majority – 86% – were aimed specifically at analyzing the hidden ruleset of games. More than half the gamers used 'systems-based reasoning – analyzing the game as a complex, dynamic system. And one-tenth actually constructed specific models to explain the behavior of a monster or situation; they would often use their model to generate predictions. Meanwhile, one-quarter of the commentors would build on someone else's previous argument, and another quarter would issue rebuttals of previous arguments and models. These are all hallmarks of scientific thought," according to commentator Clive Thompson. The study will appear in the Journal of Science Education & Technology next spring. Meanwhile, the Associated Press reports that, for the first time in two years, game sales growth has slowed to single-digit.

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