By: Ian Natzmer  -  March 15, 2016

My Dreams for Immersive Games in Education

Originally appeared on Gamasutra

I love to play role-playing games. I love pretending to be someone else in another world. Whether it’s fighting Orcs or stealing cars, there is a magic when you’re immersed into Azeroth or Vice City. But what if there was a way to capture this pastime that engages our kids for countless hours and make it educational. So, instead of taking on quests to fight in the The Battle of Darrowshire in World of Warcraft – kids would take on quests using their critical thinking skills to help Paul Revere in the American Revolutionary War.

This is not ground breaking or even a new idea. It’s one that many of us have had. In fact, there are groups of teachers who have banded together to form World of Warcraft in Schools where they use quests as the content for reading and writing. But I’d like to take it a step further. I’d like to create historic Boston and let kids explore. I’d like to immerse kids into ancient Rome to learn about the Republic and its politics by actually being a senator. It’s like bringing the fieldtrip to the classroom – except this ensures Active Participation.

My dream started to become real while I was getting my Master’s Degree in Computer Science with an emphasis on Educational Games. I was back to school after having taught Kindergarten and English. My Master’s project was a virtual world for learning Chinese. The idea was that students could practice their Chinese by interacting with the NPC’s of the virtual world.

My experience working with Game Engines for my Master’s degree landed me a job in Southern California where I led the development of a game client for playing the Trading Card Game Chaotic. I learned about startups, leading teams, and creating reliable/redundant/reusable/scalable code for games. This brought me to the startup Game Time Live as the Director of Software Development where we created GameSlam, a sports predicting game that won ESPN’s Best New Sports App of 2011. Finally, in 2012 I Co-Founded Dark Vale Games where I led the development studio to create Forge – a multiplayer Arena game on Steam.

In 2015 I decided to return to my passion: Educational Games. But now, armed with 10 years building startups and entertainment games, I have the experience and contacts to make a real contribution; to make games that are engaging like the entertainments games I’ve worked on while bringing educational value from my experiences as an educator. Odeum is the result of that dream.

Odeum is a 3D Role-Playing Game (RPG) Platform that promotes Critical Thinking among 6-12 graders in the areas of History, Literature, and Foreign Languages. In Odeum you are the hero. You are immersed (much the way kids are immersed in World of Warcraft) into 3D virtual worlds from history and literature and must complete Quests that contain educational objectives.

So what does this all really mean? Imagine how you learned Macbeth. You probably took turns reading the Old Text and followed along while other’s read. But does that mean you had comprehension? In Odeum’s Macbeth game you still read the Old Text carrying out Quests, but now you must understand the Old Text in order to complete the Quest. And if you don’t? Odeum will automatically adjust and build the required scaffolding (educators call this Differentiated Learning). Teachers don’t have time to assess each student’s comprehension as they’re reading and offer one-on-one help to those that need it. But Odeum can.

We’ve built the platform and a few Role-Playing Games. We’ve tested in schools and teachers and students have responded very positively. One student told me “It’s just like Oblivion” which as you know is an incredible complement. And while we might not be just like Oblivion, compared to the alternatives they see in the computer lab, we definitely have something special.

So, we’ve built the platform, received validation from teachers, and students are engaged and showing active participation. Now, we need to build out the rest of the library of games. My dream is to have a Role-Playing game in our library for every lesson in History and Literature a teacher would want. And with our platform’s ability for teachers to customize and even create and share their own games, I think we can do it. But I need help and that’s why I’ve started a Kickstarter Campaign to build out the library of games.

But that is not the end. All of our games, environments, and characters are in 3D. This means that as Virtual Reality continues to grow in Education there will be a need for content. And we’ll be there – Ready.


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