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More on E3 and the Games and Learning Summit

by Zachary Levine
June 20, 2011

Last week, Zachary Levine shared his thoughts on the future of educational games after attending the E3 Expo in Los Angeles. Here is his report on the Games and Learning Summit and the highlights from the Expo.

The 2nd annual Games and Learning Summit, organized by the Entertainment Software Association as a special dialogue session developed for the Electronic Entertainment Expo, included inspiring talks from several experts on the role digital games can play in advancing education. As several dozen leaders from industry, research, philanthropy and policy made their way into a conference room at the JW Marriot in Downtown Los Angeles, Mike Gallagher, President and CEO of ESA opened by stressing that the video game industry has been inspired by research on how games can promote both economic development through more high paying jobs as well as play a new role in aiding education and health.   Gallagher also shared some great stats on the growth of the industry saying that the amount of bandwidth used for the 3 days at the show is as much as an entire medium size city would use in a year. Additionally, this year, representatives from over 106 countries attended the show!

Gallagher cited the work of the Cooney Center (noting the influence of the report Game Changer) in creating momentum for the association’s work in this area and identified the strong work of foundations like MacArthur, Gates and the California Endowment. Michael Levine of the Joan Ganz Cooney Center, Michael Strautmanis,  an aide to President Barack Obama, Alan Gershenfeld of E-line Media, Connie Yowell of MacArthur Foundation, Zoran Popovic of the University of Washington and James Paul Gee of Arizona State University followed with brief statements about the role that games can play in intergenerational learning, new school-based assessments and professional development. They also expressed hopes for industry collaboration with education in the future.

Once the brief speeches were concluded, an open brainstorming session began. The agenda was to discuss whether electronic game leaders like EA, Disney and Sony would lend their expertise to educational game developers by providing mentors or releasing their own talented engineers to have a sabbatical working with government, non-profits or small game companies that wish to transform education. The meeting ended without any firm conclusions, but it was announced that University of Wisconsin Professor Constance Steinkuehler had accepted a special position as a White House Fellow to explore the ways in which games for education, health and civic engagement can become part of the national policy discussion.

The summit was designed as a medium to get ideas flowing. This objective was definitely accomplished and hopefully over the next several months many of the members at the summit will touch base and continue working together.

While the summit was occurring, the Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) opened up for its first day. There were many announcements and demonstrations including Nintendo’s launch of the Wii U console.  This gaming system is equipped with a new tablet sized controller that has a microphone, camera, and speakers.  The controller can be used in two distinct ways: first, as a second screen to supplement gameplay on the TV, and second, as a means to solely play the game instead of using the TV. For example, this could be necessary if another household member wanted to watch something on the TV while someone else was still playing on the Wii.

Microsoft showcased a number of games for its groundbreaking Kinect system. One such game is called Once Upon a Monster, which was created by Nathan Martz and Warner Bros. for Sesame Workshop.  It will be released this coming Fall. The Kinect game, which uses the platforms’ special 3D motion capture technology and a number of other exciting features that will keep kids moving (important these days when too many children are lacking exercise) is intended for 3-6 year-olds, and received major attention from the assembled crowd at E3. The game is told creatively through a storybook adventure that allows parents to play along with their children. The story follows Cookie Monster, Elmo, and other Sesame Street characters as they interact with “misunderstood monsters.” One of the goals behind the game is to teach children to try to understand the monsters instead of fearing them. Children learn valuable ways to overcome their worries and to “not judge a book by its cover.”  That is definitely one important lesson learned in the game, and in my case a great metaphor for the entire E3 industry confab. There is no doubt that the expo is still for hard-core gamers, but games are now for everyone.

Other noteworthy announcements from the convention included Sony’s new PSP Vita, EA’s first combat series (Battlefield 3), Activision’s Modern Warfare 3, and Bioware’s Star Wars: The Old Republic.  I personally whiled away some time playing Madden 12, FIFA 12, and various driving games.