Most children starting the 2012–2013 school year will have a bit of dust settling on their video games as they take to their studies this fall—unless they are attending PlayMaker School in Los Angeles. Setting an example in innovation—and certainly in creativity—PlayMaker is opening its doors for the first time this year.
“It’s a universe of magical kingdoms, ancient inventions, roller coasters, flight simulation, and a map leading to multiple pathways of adventure,” states the GameDesk website about PlayMaker.
GameDesk, a nonprofit research and outreach organization that works to find ways of learning through game play, has its roots in the University of Southern California Integrated Media Systems Center where the organization was developed out of university research.
Lucien Vattel, CEO of GameDesk, said the organization is focused on transforming the educational learning stage using next generation gaming curriculum. “We call it play making research,” he said.
For Vattel, that means “one part core research institute and one part game development company.” They even make games that go to market.
They reach out to at-risk children throughout Los Angeles, as they are also an outreach organization. Vattel said they try to transform the traditional curriculum into a curriculum that will engage at-risk students in a playful way.
The board members of GameDesk are representative of their work: the Tom and Ethel Bradley Foundation, which aims to support projects that aim in creating a just and civil society; the president of LucasArts Entertainment, which was created by George Lucas and now takes the lead in publishing entertainment software, and Bill Nye the “Science Guy.”
Vattel described GameDesk’s new school as a “choose-your-own-adventure school.”
“Instead of going to math, science, English,” well, they have rollercoaster adventures, or a “day of cooking with thermal energy. It is all life reflective,” said Vattel, adding that it leverages discovery and play.
“Games are highly visual, they are systematic, and they allow trial and error.”
-Lucien Vattel, CEO, GameDesk
Students will game-play, role-play, design apps and games, and work on media creation. “PlayMaker kids forge relationships with knowledge, and operate as producers rather than consumers,” states the GameDesk website.
The adventure maps, as they are called, are different routes that students can take depending on what they want to learn. “PlayMaker is a choose-your-own adventure story brought to life,” states the website. The adventure maps are modeled after the maps in “Legend of Zelda,” and students can go to the Emerald Forest of Media Arts and then to the Cave of Physics.
Though the organization and the school are high tech, Vattel said that they do not have to be so, but that they must be innovative.
Through a partnership with AT&T, GameDesk was recently awarded $3.8 million to build a learning center and national digital learning platform.
According to Vattel, they also invite teachers to their Dream Lab, where teachers take their activities and try to build teaching practices around those activities. They have also held courses for teachers in Los Angeles such as “101 ways to use a smartphone,” according to Vattel.
With the new AT&T partnership, Vattel said they will take all of the Dream Lab work and make it available, building an online portal where everyone can see what they learn from games.
“They get a window into our world,” said Vattel.
“Games are highly visual, they are systematic, and they allow trial and error. They are a culturally engaging artifact for processing information and making decisions,” said Vattel, who sees games as the “most engaging model that we have.”
And to Vattel, the question is what the games are teaching. “The problem is that what the games have been teaching has been part of an entertainment model, a purely financial entertainment model, not with a goal to actually teach particular types of content,” he said.
“Games present something that kids are eager to know. And how can we leverage that engagement into things that we want them to know?” said Vattel.
The Epoch Times publishes in 35 countries and in 19 languages. Subscribe to our e-newsletter.